As we ended the chat a flood of tears burst from me. I really didn’t know them well, only worked for them twice, each time for about 10 days. But they’d struck me for several reasons. Dan, was tall and distinguished-looking, but had an informal manner, and a friendly twinkle in his eyes. He was a former electrical engineer and had a brilliant, nimble mind. I learned one day from his daughter (visiting from NC), he’d been THE primary architect of the electrical systems for nuclear subs! His devoted spouse Mary had been a vibrant public school teacher, and still was a petite ball of energy.
She needed to be, as Dan had experienced a couple strokes the last few years. These had left him wheel chair bound and he’d mostly lost his ability to speak. His mind was fine but he could only speak simple words with great effort. Mary had a capable part-time helper, a wonderful young man from Malawi who was indispensable to them, even still she had to handle a huge amount of his care.
Besides all this, they both were extremely sweet and gracious to me! But what stood out from the first day I began working for them were their interactions with each other. The last few years must have been extremely frustrating for them both: a vigorous body now barely able to stand, and scintillating mind, barely able to speak, and at a time when many have retires into a life of ease, a non-stop regime of work for his spouse, ever-trying to understand his needs, pains, and thoughts through barely perceptible mumbles. Yet even in the thick of exhausted moments, they retained amazing patience and grace.
It was the second marriage for each of them, and came late in life, after kids were grown and they both were widowed. Mary was forthright but never bitter with me about their current circumstances and the challenges they both faced. Characteristically, they had me painting in order to prepare their home for the market, having accepted they could not stay there much longer.
Yet what an inspiration they both were! Throughout my time in their home, their deep love for each other was conspicuous! It shined in big and small ways. It’s impossible to convey the feelings of witnessing a brave under-five foot tall 80 year old woman support her determined 6’3” husband as he leaned on his walker, summoning all his efforts as step by step they made their way together down the hall in their warm home. I recall seeing Mary gently stroking his semi-paralyzed hand, or sweetly wiping his cheek at lunchtime; other times watching Dan’s eyes glowing fondly while looking at her as he listened to her share a story with the soft focus of intense and sincere interest; or hearing him agonizingly struggle, through immense effort, to softly but clearly enunciate something witty that at once complimented Mary and made her laugh.
Obviously, before his stroke and then beyond it, they embodied love. I’ll return to their home soon, to help brighten some of the old tones and spruce it up for sale. Hopefully Mary has felt a small measure of physical and emotional relief as she marshalls forward through her grief. But what will never fade is the energy of the bond they forged, the love they radiated, the way their true colors sustained them and, just as with me, surely touched and enriched so many other lives by their profoundly beautiful, genuine affection for each other.