The Look of Death

The Look of Death

Tom was an executive in the alcoholic beverage industry who I got to know very well and we became more than just business acquaintances despite our age difference. He was in his late fifties while I was in my early thirties.

I also got to meet his wife, Shirley, on several occasions, at some dinner or cocktail party. They were lovely people, comfortable to be with and still happily married after several decades with two grown children and looking forward to some rewarding retirement years together.

They had obtained some desert property in their youthful years and as a family project had built a very nice, attractive second home there. One time we were all in Palm Springs for a special event and they very generously invited me to spend the night at their home which I did. It was situated on five acres and allowed all the joys of desert living. And I truly enjoyed my brief stay with them.

His office was in the central city and if I was in the area I would often drop in to see if he was free for lunch or just for a chat. It was very much more a personal relationship than a business one.

On this particular day I was in the area about 11 a.m. and decided to drop by to see if Tom was in and perhaps be free for lunch. When I arrived at his office his wife, Shirley, was there as well.

They were both sitting quietly in his office and the greeting while not unfriendly was certainly constrained. Sensing that things were not right I just said I had stopped by to say hello and I would be on my way.

But Tom stopped me and asked me to sit down. He said: “We got some bad news this morning. Since we know you so well you might as well know what has happened. He then explained that he had just brought Shirley back from the doctor’s office where they had been told that Shirley had an incurable cancer and had only a few months to live.

I was of course stunned, saddened and there is never anything to say at such a moment. But what I will never forget was the look on Shirley’s face. I had noticed it when I first walked into the office and it was still there. It was and is hard to describe--a tight look not quite a smile but not a frown either. A sullen look more of disappointment than fear and a touch of anger too.

Tom concluded by saying that they were now going to lunch and would I like to come along. I declined saying I had only come by to pass some time before my next appointment. I could not intrude on them at such a poignant moment in their lives. So I said that I hoped and prayed the doctor was wrong and went on my way. He wasn’t wrong and she died three months later. But I shall never, never forget the look on her face that morning.

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