To Love and To Cherish Until Death. . .
By Sandra Fischer
For over forty years she had been a faithful wife. She had fulfilled all of the classic roles – companion, friend, lover, cook, laundress, housekeeper, mother and nurse. She considered herself blessed to have this husband, her high school sweetheart, and she looked forward to sharing the golden years with him. Their children were settled with families of their own and now that her retirement from a job at the library had come, she was excited about the future. They had bought a motor home and planned to tour the country. They would go barefoot in mountain streams, watch the changing palette of sunsets on western deserts and taste the salt air on the seashore.
The collected maps and campsite guides lay on the coffee table, dog-eared and marked with hopeful paper clips. And then, two weeks after her last day at work, the headache came. At first, she thought it was a migraine, so she had taken medication and gone back to bed, but, when a friend stopped by, she found her unable to communicate clearly and having difficulty in moving about.
The friend took her to the doctor and then, within 24 hours, her life took an abrupt detour. The testing, the rushing to the regional hospital, the consultation with the specialists, the discovery of a brain mass, the surgery, the diagnosis that the tumor was malignant – a cacophony of events that she hoped, upon waking from the anesthetic, was only a bad dream.
I remember my visit to the hospital the following day to visit her. Her head was wrapped in a gauze turban with only wisps of her hair peeking out. She was smiling, but it only slightly warmed the chill in my heart.
"Well," she joked, "I gave them a piece of my mind."
Her eyes were still the same sparkly blue, filled with honesty and hope.
"You know I’m in God’s hands. Whatever happens, He’s in charge. I’m His and I can trust Him."
The days that followed brought many changes to her life and to the lives of all of us who loved her. There were radiation treatments and ongoing tests. There were wig fittings and hats to buy. There were trips to other facilities to see what might be done to prevent the tumor’s return. There were internet searches for new remedies. There were food chains and prayer chains. The coffee table soon yielded the maps and guides to cards and flowers. The armchair with its cushioned head and armrests was replaced by the hospital bed with its cold railings to keep her from falling out.
The treatments bought some time, but we knew, and she knew, we were walking her home. What faith she showed us! Time and again she would speak of how much she knew God loved her and that she was not afraid to die. She read her Bible and she read the same devotional booklet I did each day.
While family and friends loaned their hands in love, the one who proved his was her husband. Each morning he would arise at 5:00 a.m. so he could bathe her, feed her and dress her before the first volunteer friend or family member came at 8:00 to "sit" with her so he could go to work. His company and management position did not allow him any kind of leave other than vacation days, nearly all of which he had used to care for her after the surgery.
Each day he would return at 11:00 a.m. to fix her lunch, feed her and spend time with her – then back to work while another volunteer took a shift. Returning in the afternoon, he would perform the same tasks of tending to her personal needs in every way, even flossing her teeth! Then, he would see to the laundry, change the bed sheets and tidy the house.
He spent no time questioning God or denying the reality of the situation. He, too, trusted Him with whatever was to happen. Rather than bemoaning the situation or trying to find meaning in its sudden intrusion, he rolled up his sleeves and put love into action.
So many men in such situations would have felt helpless, inadequate, reluctant or even unwilling to perform such tasks, but he seemed to relish them. The roles were reversed; the main caretaker had now become the one needing a main caretaker, and he rose to the challenge. It was almost as if, by knowing Jesus would be coming to claim her soon, he wanted all to be in order and for her to be presentable.
A few days before she left us, I commented to him about how his devotion touched me. The essence of true love came in his reply, "It has been a joy to take care of her; we have a bond so strong which death cannot sever, because the Lord is in the center of it. We vowed to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health. While I can’t account for each day of the forty-five years we’ve been married, I can say these days have been most precious."
We all hear about what love should be. We read the Corinthians chapter, and seeing our best intentions choked out by yielding to the cold realities of this life and the flesh, we chalk it up to "wishful thinking". But, here it was – a living example of the love described by Paul. I had witnessed it. Here was one who showed patience, kindness, and total selflessness toward another without complaint, fanfare or wavering.
How special to see Jesus through the acts of this husband. The fragrance of such love, like that of a crushed flower, instills my memories of this husband and wife and is a living reflection of God’s love toward us – amazing… everlasting… sacrificial.
Sandra Fischer taught high school English in Indiana before owning a bookstore for several years. Most of her writing is devoted to stories from her experiences growing up in the Midwest. She has been published in Guideposts and several trade journals. Having retired in 2001, Sandra lives in South Carolina with her husband, Craig, where she continues to write. You can contact Sandra via the Letters page of this magazine.
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