by Lucky Garvin
He was bald, old, wrinkled, spotted, and deaf; and he could no longer walk – or even stand – without assistance. But he had not always been that way. Forty nine years ago when they first met – she told me with a smile of romance freshly remembered – he was tall and strong and wonderful. So she married him.
Her love of him resides much in memory, I think; she loves him so now because she loved him so then. Maybe that’s how love is.
I spoke to her, not of today, but of later. Tending him was getting too much for her; she, like he, was aging. A nursing home placement would need to be considered someday; someday quite soon. She smiled as if having heard this suggestion before.
“I’ll hang with him as long as I can,” she said. “That’s just how it is with him and me.” [What better explanation could I ask?] It seemed to me that her view of their love was a vision of Christmas morning; a never-fading anticipation.
She went on, “I bought him a hospital bed, one that cranks up and adjusts, you know? He hated it. Wouldn’t say why; just kept grumbling. That’s not like him. Finally I said, `Once and for all, tell me why you don’t like the bed!’
“He paused. Looked away and whispered, `Because I can’t touch you.’
“So I got myself a bed to put right next to his; same height. It took some doing. But now, sometimes, when I lie there watching him sleep in the moonlight, he’ll stir, reach over, touch my hand and smile. He nods a little nod and drops back into deep sleep.”
`She lies awake and watches him,’ I thought to myself. In her lonely meditation, I wonder who she sees; her young man from long ago; or a man no longer so. She knows that one day she will have to put him in a home; and her heart breaks; breaks for this man who hates his bed because he needs to touch her; needs to know she is there.
Their minister was at the hospital with them. Three o’clock in the morning. He’s here with two of his flock. This is a man who puts his money where his faith is.
He takes me aside; he’s worried. “She’s killing herself taking care of him, Doc. She needs to get him into a home.”
My answer came without thinking; born in some deep part of me after seeing the love in her eyes when she spoke of the old man: “Better to die once, than to die a little every day after she’s had to send him away.”
I don’t believe that fairness is necessarily a part of the divine plan. The very absence of fairness in our daily lives provides, at best, an insecure footing to believe in it. I think that fairness is something the human heart imposes upon the harshness of living, to support our need for order and benevolence.
Still, as we stand in uneasy witness to this almost sacramental violation, doesn’t it seem a defilement, loving as these two people love, that their story will end as it must; with her putting her loved one away?
Look for Lucky’s books locally and on-line: The Oath of Hippocrates; The Cotillian; A Journey Long Delayed.