100: Always

100: Always

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!

Always

For you see, each day I love you more today more than yesterday and less than tomorrow.

~Rosemonde Gérard

The gentle, old man met me on the footpath. Mesmerized by the swaying treetops and the multitude of birds at his feeders, I stood motionless, admiring the view.

Pleased, he watched me glancing toward the silvery creek beckoning from below. “This property was our dream,” he said. “Planned many years ago. There are even mushrooms down there by the creek,” he offered.

“We’ll go for a walk later.”

His wife had been referred by her family doctor and I was to coordinate the services the couple would need for the next little while. As a visiting nurse, I’d grown accustomed to being thrust unexpectedly into people’s suffering. I’d even developed a shield, a protective mechanism to do my job. But, I wasn’t prepared for the effect this visit would have on me personally.

The tall, dignified man in his eighties politely invited me into his home. Hearing voices, I learned that his wife and her spiritual advisor were talking and praying in the next room. This gave us time to get acquainted.

Looking about the comfortable home, I imagined what it must have been like in days gone by: lively conversations, noisy games, and lots of laughter. The furniture, the rugs all showed years of family use. So much character. I felt like an intruder, yet he seemed pleased to have me there. He wanted to talk. He needed to talk.

He told me he and his wife had been married for sixty-two years and as a young couple had come to Canada to raise their family. Their children, who now lived in different provinces, were expected home in the next few days. And then he talked to me about his wife. The love of his life.

“When we first moved here, she became very melancholy,” he said. “So I took her back to the old country. Within a few years she was ready to return to our new home.” He pointed out photos of his wife and his sons and daughter. “There were lots of trials and tribulations for sure, but oh so much love,” he reflected. “And now she’s ready to leave again.”

When the priest left, he escorted me into her sickroom. Obviously very ill, the frail little lady in the big bed was alert and responding, trying bravely to resist the urgency to sleep. She looked lovingly at her husband; however, she wasn’t so sure about me.

“I’m not afraid to die,” she whispered. “But, I don’t want to go to the hospital.”

Only when I reassured her that the purpose of my visit was to help her stay at home did she relax. Every breath, however, was laboured. When I finished my assessment, I proposed a care plan and asked for their input — allowing them time to think about the changes it would make in their daily lives: a visiting nurse to help alleviate pain and to monitor vital signs; a homemaker to provide personal care and assistance with meals until their family arrived.

As I sat quietly writing my notes, I sensed the love and compassion in the room. Then something beautiful happened. The old man confidently picked up his delicate wife and carried her across the room. This gesture probably occurred many times in the past; however, as a bystander watching such devotion, I was awestruck. He carefully placed her in a soft chair beside the bay window overlooking her flowerbeds and their creek. What struck me was his tenderness. As if he was carrying all his worldly possessions to the altar of our Lord. He took her tiny hand in his and, lost in thought (forgetting I was in the room), his easy voice lifted in song.

“I’ll be loving you, always. Not for just an hour, not for just a day, not for just a year, but always. Always.”

“She’s my world,” he said when he finished. “Whatever you can do will be appreciated.” Poignant moments.

Love indeed shows you whole new rooms in your heart. Life suddenly becomes all the more precious. He wasn’t afraid. She wasn’t afraid. There was no anxiety. They simply wanted to spend their last days together. I felt my heart lurch. I knew I was witnessing something close to God. Absolute love between two people. The scene touched me deeply and reminded me to cherish the love and the close bond I have with my own husband.

Later, the gentle old man and I did take our walk down to the creek. With the stillness that comes with the end of day, he stood beside me, gazing intently, a profound calmness about him. Through the mist building behind my eyes, I too saw and felt the splendor — as if God had left a portrait of Himself on the mantle of earth.

“Are you going to be okay?” I asked.

“Oh, I think so,” he said. “I know it will take courage to honour this pain I carry, to trust the unfolding. But I truly believe we’ll be together one day. Together, always.”

 

~Phyllis Jardine

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