By Michael K. Burroughs
I had just turned 71 when my dear wife, Jan, passed away. We were four months shy of our 52nd Anniversary. Her doctors never expected her to make it to our 50th, following her third stroke that made her an invalid. They expected another stroke at any time, as she had had three during the first five months of 2019. Her disease made her prone to continuing hemorrhagic strokes until one would take her life, which eventually happened 26 months after we brought her home.
I was blessed to have her in my life as long as I did. We had a great life together. We lived in Europe for four years and in several cities in the USA, all of which were significant phases of our life together. One of those cities was Indianapolis, Indiana, the home of “the greatest spectacle in racing,” the Indianapolis 500. We attended that race every year we were there. It was always a party! I was in the Army, then, and the officers with whom I served, and their wives, would arrive at the Motor Speedway hours before the race, with coolers in tow (back when you could still do that), and gathered in our seats together in the fourth turn of the race track.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is incorrectly referred to often as an “oval.” It’s not. It’s a rounded rectangle that goes for 2 ½ miles. There is nowhere on the track where one can see the entire race. The fourth turn is the final turn on the track leading to the main straightaway. From where we sat, we could see the cars hurtling at over 220 mph coming out of the back straightaway, into the third turn, through the “short chute” between the third and the fourth turn, then out of the fourth turn. The cars would then disappear down the main straightaway to the finish line, where the checkered flag came out for the winner at the end of the race. It was a great place from which to view the race.
The Indy 500 is always run on the Sunday before Memorial Day. Two days before, thousands of runners (including me and several of my colleagues) gathered downtown at “Monument Circle,” where the gun sent us off and running for the 13.1 miles of the “Mini Indy,” a half marathon. At about the 11-mile mark, the runners would enter the Motor Speedway between the first and the second turn so we could run the remainder of our race around the track. The half marathon’s finish line was the Speedway’s finish line. It was always thrilling to finish the race! I did this race three years in a row.
This final stage of our race was always exciting, as we knew it was about over. We could see the finish line about a half mile down the main straightaway. Rounding that fourth turn was an existential experience for me. I thought even then, in my early 30’s, that the fourth turn was symbolic. It remains an important metaphor in my life. It also represented the last phase of my life (should I live an average life span), as I could see and feel the end of the race was drawing near.
I lost my wife while figuratively rounding that fourth turn of my life. The final sprint to the end is a relatively short distance, comparatively.
So many of you, my brothers, lost your wives much earlier in your marriage than I did. That fact is not lost on me and only makes me appreciate more the 51+ years Jan and I were together. As I am convinced that she and I will have a rapturous reunion for all eternity when I cross through the veil that separates us, I am comforted in knowing that at 72, I am approaching the end—whenever that might be. I’m rounding the fourth turn of my life now. I can see her tiny figure in the distance standing at the finish line, waving and yelling, “Way to go, honey! You’ve done it!”
The checkered flag is out. Jan’s “million dollar smile,” a hug, a kiss, some Gatorade, and a dry towel await me when I finally get there. A foretaste of heaven.
Michael Burroughs is the author of Moving Mountains: Facing Strokes with Faith and Hope. He lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri. You can reach him via Facebook Messenger.