"I just look awful," my mother moaned the whole way home from Chicago. "I've never looked this bad. What is your father going to say when he sees me?"
She wasn't looking for an answer. I knew no one could give my mom enough compliments in that 10-hour car ride to ever convince her that she looked great. No one, that is, except my dad.
My mom has always been concerned about her appearance. Not in a conceited way. But because she grew up during the Depression and had nothing to wear but patched, ill-sized hand-me-downs, she always felt less attractive than everyone around her. To this day, she strives to look her best even if going to the gas station. And she tries especially hard for her husband of 53 years.
We were driving back to Pennsylvania after attending my niece's wedding. It had been a beautiful weekend. The predicted hailstorm had turned into swirling wisps of clouds on a backdrop of blue. Far-flung family members had reunited with hugs, kisses, bad jokes, and good-natured teasing. The bride and groom had radiated with love for each other and high expectations of their new life.
Now we were on our way to the nursing home to see my dad, who had not been able to accompany us on this special occasion.
I believe this trip was the first time in all their years of marriage that my mom and dad had been apart for more than a day.
Last fall, we moved my dad into a nursing home because my mom standing 5-foot nothing and weighing all of 100 pounds could no longer help lift and guide my 6-foot, 2-inch father, who in high school had taken the Jeannette Jayhawks to the Pennsylvania State Football Championship as their star fullback.
And although they no longer live under the same roof, Mom visits Dad every day feeding him lunch, trimming his hair, or helping him shave, with the tenderness a mother has for her newborn child.
So this trip was difficult for both of them. Mom especially, who was not feeling quite herself, worried about her beloved seeing her "in such condition."
When we arrived at his room, Dad was sitting in his lift chair half asleep, absently staring at an extreme-sports show on TV. He'd never enjoyed those programs. One of the nurses must have turned it on, and he'd had no motivation to change it.
But when he saw Mom at the door in her light-pink pantsuit, framed by the setting sun shining in his window, he came alive. His eyes grew large, his mouth dropped open. He wore the expression of one seeing a heavenly vision.
Even though it took a while for Mom to walk to where he sat, neither spoke. They just stared at each other perhaps afraid that if they uttered a word, the other would somehow fade away.
Mom reached out and gently caressed Dad's face. "I missed you," she said.
His eyes filled with tears as he said, "Gosh, you look beautiful."
Hours of anxiety and concern melted away with those four words. I thought my dad was the most thoughtful man in the whole world at that moment.
My mom burst into tears. They hugged; again, neither could speak.
As my husband and I sat on the bed, we felt a little as if we were eavesdropping on a private moment between two lovers.
Yet we felt blessed, too. We were witnessing the fruits of the same love that another couple had promised each other just the day before. The love my mom and dad had for each other made them radiate with beauty and life every bit as profound as that of my niece and her new husband.
That day I realized that years can't dim love. And love, more powerful than any other force, only deepens our beauty and appreciation of each other with each passing year.
Mom, you are beautiful.