The day will always be an easy one to remember. It was my favorite co-worker’s birthday, a favorite colleague by all who works at Just Counters & Other Stuff. Since it was my day off, my husband and I decided to run some errands together. In the meantime, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to give Cindy Kohls-Brophy a couple of presents. I asked Paul if we could stop by the showroom first. “I’ll wait out here,” my husband said as we arrived. And, I noted to myself that he didn’t cut off the engine, as I exited to go into the showroom. I had agreed to run inside, wait for Cindy to open her gifts, and then I’d run back out. Cindy was delighted when she opened the first gift: a 12-pack of double rolls of toilet paper. Suddenly good ole’ toilet paper has become a hot commodity amid coronavirus pandemic. There are a lot of people living under my coworker’s roof. I knew that since toilet paper has become scarce, I didn’t want any one of her family members to be left paperless, being stuck on the toilet and finding they’re down to the last square of toilet paper.
As soon as I left Cindy and delightfully closed the showroom door behind me, I saw a customer climb out of his pickup truck. Because Paul was waiting for me in his vehicle, with the engine still running, I attempted to dodge the customer. “Hey, Michele,” I heard Don call out. Darn, I was caught. I shook my head as a kind of sigh of resignation—there was no avoiding him now. So, I circled back to Don, our customer.
“How are you?” I said sheepishly.
I watched Don stroke his hand through his silvery gray hair.
There’s a story that precedes Don’s arrival at the showroom this day, so I’m going to back up a little bit, and share the backstory first. Okay?
A kitchen redo may not have been discussed before Don and Diana got married, twenty-one years ago, in Las Vegas. When they stood at the small chapel’s altar, they swore they’d stick by each other for better, or for worse. In sickness and in health. For richer or poorer, ‘til death do them part. But during the quick wedding ceremony those sweet vows skipped over one very crucial commitment, and it involved a kitchen renovation.
Diana was the one who wanted to update their kitchen. In fact, she thought about the renovation 24 hours a day and talked of nothing else. However, it wasn’t the same for Don. He didn’t feel the same enthusiasm. Don didn’t see the value in updating their out-of-date kitchen. He was perfectly fine with their two-tone cabinets. He wasn’t bothered by the white doors on the dark-colored cabinets, or the chipped Formica countertops. Diana, on the other hand, was convinced they needed to improve the efficiency and visual appeal of their kitchen.
I’ve watched innumerous HGTV shows for twenty-some years. What you typically don’t see on those made-for-TV shows are couples having heated arguments about budget-busting cabinetry, and then silently stewing in separate rooms for the rest of the evening. Don wanted to make Diana happy. He wanted to please his wife, but he also knew that sometimes remodels can drag on an on, because there’s no direction. He wanted to plan each process and have a deadline. That’s what brought Diana and Don to Just Counters & Other Stuff. They asked me to measure and design an affordable kitchen for the two of them. Simple enough, right?
After the presentation, Don informed me that he would need some time to apply for a loan before he could sign the contract. It was clear he was only doing this to please his wife, and he was certainly not emotionally invested in the process. Don made it known they didn’t have a lot of money. It took a couple of months but eventually Don was able to get a loan and their kitchen makeover was completed. Even though it may take him years to make the payments, Diana would have her “dream kitchen.”
Now let’s get back to the face-to-face conversation I had with Don in the parking lot.
I watched him run his hand through his long silvery gray hair. I waited for his answer to, “How are you?” I suddenly realized something wasn’t quite right. I saw that look in his eyes. I’ve seen that kind of pain in other people’s eyes before, when a life has fallen apart. I watched him struggle for words. I waited. Tears were in his eyes; but he tried to look brave.
“Not good,” he sighed. After a long pause, “My wife died.”
My immediate reaction was wait, what? His words, his incredibly sad news caught me off guard. I hadn’t expected on an answer like that. I was shocked, saddened and surprised. We stood in solemn silence for the whole 10-second moment. I had a hard time forming a single complete sentence, and so I babbled a little bit, forcing my own tears back. “I’m so sorry, I’m so…,” my words trailed off. After my underwhelming answer I turned my attention to my husband. Paul’s SUV was still running. He’d been listening and watching. When my husband knew something serious was going on, he lowered his window. That’s when he witnessed my hands as they attempted to reach out to comfort Don, but then I immediately pulled back. I felt like a darn magnet, like what happens when two South Pole magnets come together. All magnets have north and south poles. Opposite poles are attracted to each other, while the same poles repel each other. I wanted so badly to give Don a comforting hug. If you know me—I’m a hugger.
I had a choice. I could take a step forward or could take a step back, or I could stay exactly where I was, unmoving, which is what I did on that day, in this unusual environment of “social distancing.” I did not make a move. I was already skating on thin ice because I was supposed to stay at least 6-feet away from other people. But there I was. I stood a mere foot away from our grieving customer, and I couldn’t hug him to try in some way, to relieve his pain.
Don proceeded to tell me that his wife became very sick in February. He took her to the ER where they admitted her. Diana contracted an infection in her lungs which spread to her brain and she died a few weeks later, on March 2nd. I felt nauseated.
My story could take you to this home…describe to you what the beautiful new Port Charlotte kitchen looks like. Instead let me attempt to represent it for you. You would now see a place where only one person lives…a widower, a grieving man whose life was so different a mere two months ago. I sat across the table from this man whose wife’s belongings were scattered around the beautiful kitchen. Diana was still ever-present. I spoke to a man whose blue eyes, red-rimmed, and often with a glazed-look, his face scruffy and unshaven. I considered this man and how God placed him in front of me. The thought sent a herd of goose bumps up my arms, to my shoulders. “I know your whole world is coming apart, Don,” I spoke softly. I continued on, “Your choice is either to be crushed by it or to carry on. You will find a way to put your life back together again, piece by piece. But one thing’s for sure, it will take time. It will be worth carrying on.”
Each time I write a blog, I share a part of myself with you, as I tell you stories of the beautiful homes that I am blessed to design. I try to relate the persona of my clients and tell the stories of their projects in a way that you can relate to them. I try to give you not just a story of a beautiful design job, but of the lives that are represented. This story is one of a beautiful life lost. But, it’s also a story about a couple that became a blessing my life, as I worked on their project.
I love to share my experience with you, and I hope you enjoy my stories as well. If you know someone who would enjoy Designs by Michele Rose, you can always forward them the blog and ask them (politely) to sign up. It would mean so much to me.