A church member by the name of Bill recently turned 84. I went with Henrietta, an elder of the church, to visit and wish him a happy birthday. When we arrived at the facility, Bill was sound asleep. We decided to wait. Twenty minutes later we heard his voice calling for a nurse.
I expected Bill to be frail and even fragile. I thought he would be quite disoriented, and that communication might be difficult. Bill had a fairly long history of coping with major and minor strokes, and all their inherent complications.
I knew Estella, his beloved wife, was hoping to have a medical emergency free summer, but alas, this was not to be. Bill had several strokes of different sizes and scope, and his condition wavered from critical to stable to pretty good. He had recently had a feeding tube removed, and was back to eating “normal food” -- a good sign, in the jargon of getting old.
Our chat with Bill was easy and casual, and we caught up on the basic details of his recent medical history. He was feeling quite a bit better, confident he would be allowed home within a few days, and hoping he would soon be able to devour some of Estella’s magnificent cooking.
Having once shared a meal with the Bill and Estella, I was keenly aware of Estella’s kitchen wizardry. I had heard tales of her culinary prowess from several of the church women, but especially her beloved best friend, Shirley. It was all true. Bill had every reason to drool in anticipation of an Estella prepared home cooked meal.
Henrietta mentioned what a hard worker Estella was, and I echoed her, speaking up about Estella’s extraordinary gifts as a caregiver. Bill, who was a stately and modest gentleman, and approached Life with a rare combination of dignity and integrity, began to quaver and wince, and it was then I noticed the tears streaming down his cheeks. Bill knew full well of his good fortune in having such a devoted and loving and loyal mate.
Bill tried for a few minutes to speak, to tell us of his deep appreciation for his adored wife. He simply could not extract the words. His tears were too strong, as was his own devotion and love and loyalty to her. He tried several times, and then his head would sag, and the tears would fall even harder. It was a most moving sight, transforming even -- being left speechless by the goodness of one’s own marriage.
I've been married twice, and lost both women to major illness. Each loss was initially profound and deep, and the absence seemed to scream daily in my ear, like severe tinnitus. However, over time, the ache grew even stronger and fuller and could yank any day out of my reach. What I missed then were such small things: holding a hand, stroking hair, a shared smell, like lilacs, laughing at a rerun you have seen a dozen times, driving in silence through gorgeous countryside, eating a delicious meal and savoring it, a nod, a knowing look, the experience of being understood or accepted or defended, the joy of witnessing your own family history being written before your eyes, the excitement of seasons and holidays, even if just for a moment.
I had driven to the nursing home with a deep sense of anguish for Bill and Estella. Thinking how sad it was to have lost another summer to medical emergencies and chronic care. I believe Henrietta and I left this rehab, envying the love made known there, a couple who continue to share Life, and mature and melt into one another, grateful for every day.
We did not stay for the birthday celebration, orchestrated by, of course, Estella, and her dear friend, Shirley. I heard it was quite nice, and then Bill grew tired and needed to rest. They marked another milestone together, and did so with such a deep and abiding faith in one another, their children, family and friends, their God and Life as a whole. No matter how weary, Estella would never let Bill forget she appreciated each and every day.
Over the years, I have seen so many couples in marriage counseling. I have been told of the slimmest and slightest reasons for break up. I worry about the lack of trust in marriage, which I witness in so many youth today. I wish I could just video Estella and Bill for a day, and hand it out, and say, “There, do it and be it like that!”
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.