Duncan: Window-washing, dreaming, and realizing what’s really important in life


Lynda (1948-2019) and Ron Ashburn (1948-2018), were married for more than 40 years. courtesy of Megan Duncan

Mom used to tell me to wash the living room windows. I’d usually just stare out of them and daydream while slowly moving my hand in circles. 

I was a singer in the city – wandering the streets with a voice and a guitar. I had no idea how to play the guitar but I figured I could always learn. I later took three lessons and decided that was rather optimistic.

I was a journalist on a beat, questioning authority, breaking the news.

This dream stemmed from a 10-year-old attempt at publishing a newspaper called “The Guinea Pig Newsletter.” I delivered the hand-written pages monthly to both sets of grandparents and four eager neighbors waiting to hear what was new with Cinnamon and Whitey who were married with three kids.

It was really the first issue that grabbed them, when we found three baby furballs in their cage discovered Whitey was a girl which was opposite of what the pet store told us.

Mom’s footsteps usually interrupted my window-washing, dream-state as I would start spritzing and wiping real fast. 

Everything I dreamed about and everything I wanted was always far away from my childhood home on Saturn Drive. Success and happiness wouldn’t derive from the place I grew up – it would have to happen somewhere else. Somewhere bigger. More important. 

The ticktock of life has taught me what is important, though. 

It’s much different than what I thought all those years ago, or even what I thought only several years ago if I’m being honest. 

Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2017. We took to social media asking for prayers and documenting his fight.

In the meantime, Mom was diagnosed with lung cancer and it was a more private battle. She wanted no one to know other than family and close friends. She decided not to take treatments and it wasn’t a decision she wanted many opinions on.   

Mom was put on Hospice in September 2018 and Dad was put on Hospice the following month. Dad died November 2018 and Mom died a few months later–on Valentines Day 2019.

And when February rolls around, my mind wanders back to those last moments of their lives.

Side by side in their recliners with mom’s favorite show Frasier relentlessly playing on Hulu, while Dad’s crossword puzzles sat atop his lap—the last days of their forty-six year-long marriage were spent together. 

I wish it was as beautiful as it sounds. 

Cancer is ugly, though. Relentless. 

My anger often fixates on the heartless and unforgiving disease that took my parents. Cancer didn’t care that we needed them. 

Cancer didn’t care about the empty seats at Connor’s baseball games, Logan’s football games, or the ones at my kitchen table where mom always sat and where Dad’s hand always curled around his favorite coffee cup. 

Although it wrecks hearts and lives, what I discovered for myself is it can repair them as well. Cancer won’t get the credit for that, though. That is from above.

It amazes me how God uses the most broken things as tools for the heart–especially between Mom and me. Just like other moms and daughters, we had our ups and downs. When this journey began – we were on a down. 

As the clock ticked away, though, God reminded me what was important: loving the people He gave me to love. I thought I already knew that, but as she got sicker, He taught me that I didn’t know at all. 

Even in the months to weeks before that, as I moaned and complained about everything Shawn and I were going through as caretakers and still trying to parent our own children–God finally smacked me in the head. 

It wasn’t about me. It was about them. Never have I been more thankful for conviction. 

Dad’s death was peaceful as I read his favorite bible verses and watched his breathing slow and finally stop.

But Mom’s death shocked me. We’d moved her to Quincy for two weeks while waiting for a private room in Hannibal to open up—and we were going to move her back to Hannibal the very same day she died. 

She was very sick already, and I planned to basically live at the medical facility until she breathed her last breath.  

But God had other plans. 

When we left her room the night before Valentine’s Day, I think she knew. I kissed the top of her head and told her that I would see her tomorrow.

She looked at all of us and then looked directly into my eyes and smiled.

“I love you with all my heart. You’ve made me so happy.” 

That was the last thing she ever said to me—and I later recalled those were the same last words her own mother said to her.

Now, I replay all of that in mind with my hand slowly making a circle on the glass and cleaner dripping down and pooling on the window sill.

Once, all I could think about was getting away from here–moving on and becoming something great. 

Dreams and aspirations are healthy. If losing my parents taught me anything, it’s that life is for living every moment until you can’t live it anymore. 

But now I understand how precious and important the life was that I once wanted to leave behind.  

Every moment – the good ones, the bad ones–the one where she sat on top of me because she didn’t like the guy I was about to go out with–were all my story. Our story–Mom and me.

What I wouldn’t give now to hear her footsteps. 

In her honor, I hurry up and spritz, cleaning the windows as I know she’d want them cleaned. 

Thanks for the life you gave me, Mom and Dad. Most of all, thanks God for wonderful parents. 

I hope the rest of my story makes them proud.

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