Deb: Today is my 22nd wedding anniversary. As I have said in previous blog-posts, I have a happy wonderful marriage for which I feel truly blessed and grateful. But today, on the occasion of this anniversary, I am getting a first hand look into the heart and soul of another beautiful marriage. On our wedding day, I wonder how many of us really take it in when the phrase “for better or worse” is uttered? On that glorious day, none of us can really fathom that it is not always going to be better, like the eternally happy figures at the top of the cake.
Today I am celebrating my anniversary without my husband who is physically three thousand miles away, but emotionally tucked right into the heart of me. Right now I am sitting in the palliative care ward of Princess Margaret hospital in Toronto on this the second day of a loving vigil. I am here because of my darling friend Sheila and her wonderful husband Pete. Pete we are told, is in the last days of his life and the panic to grasp it is welling up in my already full heart.
Pete is in his bed sleeping, unable to communicate anymore, except occasionally with his eyes. He cannot move on his own or speak. And yet, his marriage is thriving. I am watching Sheila sweetly talk to him as she wets the sponge that will moisten his lips. I see her cry rivers of tears, and seconds later laugh at a visitor’s funny story of Pete. She is loving him and clinging to him and watching him slip away from her. She is not grasping at him or begging him to stay, although I know she would like to.
She is simply honouring her love for him by working on their marriage. It is probably not the first time she has had to work on it. Heaven knows we all have to from time to time.
But today her marriage needs tending and she is tending it as bride, wife, and mother of his children.
Although she is powerless to stop this train in motion, she is loving him as if he were not going anywhere. She spends the day greeting their visitors and making them feel at ease, which is no easy feat during this heartbreaking drop-in. She has spent their marriage playing the consummate hostess, doing it with joy. These endless gatherings over the years would end I am sure with she and Pete clearing the dishes and talking over the night’s events. This one won’t. But you would never know it. Sheila is a dancer and although this is a dance she never wanted to perform, I have never seen her so graceful. With the grace of a prima ballerina she shifts effortlessly between repeating Pete’s condition to a newcomer, to comforting one of her beautiful daughters who has just broken down, and back to her husband’s side where she kisses and strokes him and reminds him that she is “right here, sweetheart”.
People kept asking me “how is she able to do it, how is she able to cope?” The answer is simple. She is tending to the “for worse” part as promised in their vows. The “better” has been their whole entire marriage. This is a “worse” no one should have to face. But she took her vows and she loves her Pete more now than she ever believed possible on that wedding day. And so, as hard as her task seems to those of us on the outside, I realized halfway through the day that it is actually an easy job for her. Easy to love him, easy to help him, easy to be his wife. Because that’s what she is for better or worse.
***Peter died tonight night within a half hour of the last visitor leaving. He was surrounded by his girls and he just quietly and gently slipped out of this world.
And every anniversary of our lives Colin and I will raise our glasses to Pete and Sheila, filled with the precious reminder of what marriage is and should be.
Barbara: Deb, this homage to a marriage and to a deathbed vigil is absolutely heartbreaking and stunningly beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing their amazing story. I wish Sheila much love and strength and Peter everlasting peace.