Fifty years ago this coming June, I served as a bridesmaid for the marriage of my closest college friend. She and her fiance had met in college so I knew them both very well. The marriage was a time of rejoicing and, on my end, a little envy since I had yet to find a suitable match. They had two daughters two years older and two years younger than my daughter, but lost a son in between when he died in utero. They both had successful teaching careers, dedicating themselves to urban high schools and teacher preparation programs. They bought a lovely home and welcomed me into it many times when I was in their area to visit.
My friend’s mom had early onset Alzheimer’s and my friend and I tended to her one week while her dad took a well earned break. I witnessed a woman I knew losing speech, memory and eventually motor skills. It was sobering and I admired her husband for his devotion to his wife. Neither my friend nor I could imagine such a life for ourselves.
Fifteen years ago the troubling symptoms, mainly personality changes, appearing in my friend led to her diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s, now known to be genetically linked. For a number of years her husband was able to let her stay at home with family caretakers helping him. Eventually he found a safe home for her to live in and moved to the town near by. He visits her daily, loves her intensely, and remains faithful to her in all ways. He lives out the promise made before me and others all those years ago to be her “loving and faithful husband..in sickness and in health.”
We know so very little when we make those promises to each other, especially if we are young and healthy. When we said our vows I think many of us focused on the “plenty,” “joy,” and “health” conditions rather than the “want,” “sorrow,” and “sickness.” May we all have the strength and courage to remain true to our spouse no matter what. I look at my friend’s father and her husband and know it can be done.