Conan was visiting his wife Martha's grave for the very first time when he saw a young boy sobbing and doing something strange. When he discovered the story of that child, he couldn't believe Martha had kept it from her.
"Call for you on Line 1, Mr. Levington."
"Hello, Levington here."
"Your wife's portrait is here, sir." The caller nervously corrected himself, "Your late wife's."
Conan hung up and looked around at his empty office. He was numb to the colorful sea of bouquets and hampers piled up in one corner of the room. The time had come for him to make the announcement in front of his employees.
Conan was ready to make an announcement to his employees after the call. | Source: Getty Images
That afternoon, over 200 employees gathered to hear from Mr. Levington, Businessman of the Year for the third time in a row.
"This has not remotely been the most difficult decision in my life. I can stand here and tell you how difficult things were when I started this company with $27 in my pocket. I can tell you how devastating it was to lose my family and home in the floods of 1975 and live inside an old church for a year."
"I can tell you how hard it was for me to be diagnosed with stage 3 cancer just a week after I took this company public. I can tell you how hard it is to stand here and willingly let go of this company that has been a rare constant in my life."
"But the truth is, none of this comes close to the pain that has punctured my soul since last month. The most difficult decision was to breathe again after Martha was gone." Conan was choking up as he said her name.
Conan choked up as he remembered the love of his life, Martha. | Source: Getty Images
He cleared his throat and continued:
"The most difficult decision was to get out of bed every following morning, knowing that none of it had any meaning anymore. And to visit her headstone because that would break my illusion that she's ever coming back."
"And so, as I said, this decision to step back and stop hovering over all of you is an easy one. The company is in the hands of some very capable, very strong minds. I know this because Martha picked each and everyone in this room. She and I had numerous fights over some of you. But she won those fights, and you are here because she saw something powerful in you."
He continued, trying to contain the trembles in his voice:
"All I really have to say is, don't forget Martha."
Conan reminded the employees that Martha believed in each one of them. | Source: Getty Images
"Don't forget the woman who went through every hardship imaginable in her life and still showed up every day, believing in the work we do.
"I'm taking nothing with me because everything here belongs to you now. This isn't my legacy anymore. It's yours. Instead, I'm leaving you something.
"I'm leaving you a little reminder of the woman who believed in each of you."
Saying this, he unveiled the portrait.
The applause and the grief echoed around the room. Conan took one final look at the portrait, and for a moment, it felt like she was looking back at him. He got off the stage hurriedly before another outburst of uncontrollable crying could set in.
Conan walked away after making a moving speech announcing his retirement. | Source: Getty Images
It had been 29 days, 7 hours, and 4 minutes since Martha had breathed her last.
On his ride home after the emotional farewell, Conan felt a strange impulse. He asked the driver to take him to the cemetery. He was finally ready to visit his beloved Martha's grave.
He spotted her headstone, and to his surprise, there was a small bunch of saplings of her favorite flowers, tulips. As he knelt, he noticed several buds waiting to bloom. Their beautiful shapes were unmistakable. There was a whole section of Conan and Martha's garden that she had set aside for planting tulips. She loved them like they were her own children.
When Conan sat in front of the headstone, there was an unexpected lack of emotion. There was no sense of overwhelm and no urge to break down. There was just an endless feeling of calmness and peace. He could feel his shoulders drop and his forehead unwrinkle. He knew he wasn't going to move from that spot for a while.
Conan finally decided to visit Martha's grave. | Source: Getty Images
The headstone read: 'Here lies our beloved Martha. The world was brighter while she was here.'
Those words made him smile. Martha loved being out in the sunshine. There wasn't a sunny day when she would miss the chance to wear one of her pretty summer dresses and sit outside her favorite cafe by the beach.
She would sit there, basking in the sun, indulging him in conversations about books, history, or their next dream vacation spot.
She was a happy soul, quick to immerse in every simple pleasure life provided. Her heart was light about most things, and she had a quiet compassion that didn't interfere with her ability to be fierce when needed.
That's what made her perfect as Conan's partner in business and in life. Through all the years, there had been only one thing that had brought their relationship to the brink of an end.
One of the strongest wishes of both Conan and Martha was to raise children of their own. They would often dream of their babies together, and it was a big part of how they planned their lives.
Conan and Martha had always dreamed of having children together. | Source: Getty Images
They had put this desire on hold for a long time because they wanted to build a decently successful and stable business before they brought their child into the world.
But after the long wait, Conan and Martha were devastated to learn that their plan didn't matter. Due to a particular health condition, Martha wasn't capable of conceiving a child.
This broke them, individually and as a couple. Both Conan and Martha were hurting, and even though they wanted to reach out and soothe each other's grief, they couldn't. It was a whole year of silence and despair before they could remember the other good things in their lives.
Meanwhile, wonderful things were happening in their professional lives. Their business was taking off, they went public, and investors from across the country waited in line to get a piece of it.
Looking back, Conan remembered how much Martha had tried to hide her pain ever since. Whenever she heard about a child or grandchild being born in someone's family, she went out of her way to convey her congratulations. But there was a sadness in her eyes that only Conan could see.
The sorrow of not being able to conceive a child never really left Martha. | Source: Getty Images
And even though years had gone by, there was always a sense of something unspoken between him and her when it came to the topic of children. They both thought it best not to touch that nerve at all, fearing it would bring out the pain again.
Conan's phone buzzing jolted him back to reality. It was his lawyer, whom he was scheduled to meet about 20 minutes ago. Reluctantly, Conan stood up and placed a soft kiss on the stone.
As he was leaving, he couldn't help but marvel at the tiny little buds of tulips again and wonder who planted them there. "I'll see you again tomorrow, sweetheart," he said and walked away.
Moments later, a little boy carefully walked up to the stone. He had a container of some sort in his hand. The boy stood there, muttered a few words, and hugged the stone for several seconds.
The little boy paid a visit to Martha's grave. | Source: Getty Images
The little boy thought this would go unseen, but Conan was watching from a distance. He had barely entered the car when he noticed this little stranger visiting Martha's grave.
Who was this little boy? Conan decided to stay put and watch what the boy would do next. To his surprise, the little boy tilted the container and appeared to pour something in front of the grave. This startled Conan. He got out of the car and began quietly walking up to the boy.
As he closed in, Conan realized that the boy, who may have been eight or nine years old, was crying as he was watering the tulip saplings.
Conan was now even more curious to learn about the boy. He waited for a few seconds before tapping on the boy's shoulder. Conan asked, "Who are you, little boy?"
Even though Conan's voice was gentle, it scared the child. Not knowing how to respond, the child ran away as fast as he could.
Conan stood there, puzzled. He tried to look around, but there was no sign of the boy anywhere. And just when he was about to give up his search and leave, he saw a young woman waving at him. She was walking briskly towards Conan.
Shortly after the boy ran away, an unknown woman was approaching Conan. | Source: Getty Images
"I'm sorry about that, Mr. Levington. My name is Justine, and that's my son, Isaac." She paused to catch her breath. "Well, he's my foster son. And he owes your wife everything."
"What do you mean?" Conan asked.
The two strangers started taking a walk. "You see, Mr. Levington, Isaac was an abandoned child. I'm his foster mother. I wouldn't have been if it wasn't for your wife.
"She first noticed Isaac at a bus stop in the neighborhood. He was sitting alone, hiding his face in a hoodie. Martha felt the urge to call out to the boy and ask him if he was alright, but she didn't. Not until she saw the same boy at the same spot three days in a row.
"The third time, Martha got out of her car and walked up to the boy. She realized that he might have been abandoned. It was a cold day, and she instantly took off her coat and wrapped it around the shivering child.
"She asked him: 'What's your name, darling?'
"'Isaac,' he nervously replied.
"'Isaac, sweetie, would you like to grab a burger and some hot chocolate with me?'
"That was the beginning of Martha's strange relationship with Isaac."
Martha's kindness towards Isaac started a new chapter in both their lives. | Source: Getty Images
Conan could not believe what he was hearing. He sat on a nearby bench, gathered himself, and asked the woman to continue the story. It was then that Conan learned that Martha had secretly been taking care of Isaac. She had him admitted to a good school in the neighborhood. She found him temporary accommodation at a friend's place. Martha would catch up with Isaac over lunch every day.
That is until she finally found the perfect family for him. Martha had been looking for a while, and when Justine and her husband Phil contacted her, she took out time to get to know them closely.
After weeks of vetting and a heart-to-heart conversation with Isaac, she made a few calls and gave Isaac his new, loving family. After that, Isaac and Martha would often meet for a hot chocolate after school before dropping him home.
Conan couldn't believe that his Martha had kept such a big secret. But somehow, in his heart, there was no room for anger. Conan was touched that Martha got to nourish and care for a child after all.
The one regret that Conan thought Martha took with her to the grave was wiped away. He was relieved to know that Martha had lived a full life, even though he wished she had told him. Perhaps she was afraid to confess, fearing that he wouldn't be able to accept and help Isaac as easily as she could.
Conan thought about the missed opportunity of sharing this chance to make a difference in the little boy's life. But perhaps, there was still time.
Conan wished he could have been an equal part of Isaac's life. | Source: Getty Images
Justine led the way to Isaac, who was sitting on a bench, his head sunken, staring at a tulip bud in his hand.
Conan sat next to him and asked, "You planted those tulips, didn't you?" Isaac nodded quietly, trying not to cry.
"Do you know why she loved them so much?" The little boy was now curious.
"She said that tulips could grow even after they were cut off from the plant. She admired that about the flower, and believed that just like a tulip, we are also meant to grow through our greatest challenges and pain; grow so that our kindness and ideas can touch the lives of others. Like hers touched yours."
Conan sat with Isaac and had his first-ever conversation with him. | Source: Getty Images
Isaac had tears in his eyes as Conan said, "Now, I'm no Martha, but I love hot chocolate, too. And I really could use a friend to help me with my pain. Will you see me as your friend, Isaac?"
Even before Conan could finish the question, Isaac threw his arms around him in a tight hug and cried, "Yes."
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