‘Till death do us part

From the Boston Globe:

When Neil Carruthers married Tina Nedelcu three years ago, he knew her funeral might arrive sooner than either wanted. She had already been treated for brain cancer, and had learned anew to talk and walk and coax her lovely voice to sing again in church.

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For some, illness puts love on hold. Not Neil. “He said, ‘Mom, you don’t marry someone for their pedigree and you don’t marry them for their health history,’ ” his mother, Rosanne, recalled. “He told me, ‘Mom, whatever time we have, I want to spend with her.’ ”

Nine months after they married in 2010, the cancer returned. Early this year they moved in with Neil’s parents in Stoneham, and he stopped working so he could tend to all Tina’s needs. When she could no longer speak, he sat by the bed and read from a Bible whose passages she had highlighted so brightly and frequently it was as if Scripture glowed from every page.

“I know he was helping to prepare her,” Rosanne said, “but for me as a mother, as a Christian, it was as if she was preparing him as well.”

No one, however, could anticipate what would unfold the morning of Aug. 11 when Neil walked out of Tina’s room and collapsed. Rosanne, a nurse at Winchester Hospital, performed CPR, but two hours of efforts by medical workers failed to revive Neil at home and at the hospital, where he died. As it happens, he had gone for a physical a few days earlier and his physician saw nothing amiss. His family is awaiting autopsy results.

Before leaving for the hospital, Rosanne had broken the news to Tina that something happened to Neil, “and I know she understood. When I came home, I went in and I held her hand and I told her, ‘Tina, he didn’t make it, he’s going to have to be there waiting for you,’ and tears ran right down her cheeks.”

Forty six hours later, Tina died in hospice care. She was 29, he was 34, and their joint funeral will be held in Stoneham Saturday.

“God knew they were going to go at the same time,” Neil’s mother said.

The convergence of their lives and love that began when they met in 2008 was in many ways as improbable as their final two days.

Family and friends recall that both Neil and Tina were caring individuals who’s lives converged into a remarkable, heroic love story.

A couple of years out of high school, Tina started experiencing seizures. Initially misdiagnosed, a brain tumor showed up on an MRI, and she underwent surgery in 2006, her sister said. Having been temporarily paralyzed, Tina had relearned how to make her way in the world in her mid-20s. She was living in Georgia when she met Neil Mason Carruthers via an online Christian Adventist dating website.

The younger of two children, Neil “was always caring as a kid,” said his sister, Jill Hodson of Sterling. “He didn’t like confrontation, but he knew what he believed in. He wouldn’t give in to peer pressure.”

After graduating, he did landscaping and construction on Cape Cod, then returned to Stoneham. He took a job at Winchester Hospital as a patient safety associate and sat through nights with confused, elderly patients, or those at risk of falling, to keep them safe.

“You have to have the patience of a saint. Neil did,” said his supervisor, Mary Beth Strauss. “And he loved what he did. He worked overnight so he could take care of Tina during the day. When he talked about his wife, you could feel the love between them. There was something really remarkable with those two.”

During Tina’s final months, taking care of her filled all of Neil’s hours.

“He never, never gave up,” his mother said. “When she lost her speech, I would have been so frustrated. He’d say, ‘Mom, she can tell me so much with her eyes.’ He’d say, ‘Mom, she can tell me more than most people can tell me with words.’ ”

Not everyone lives the vow “till death do us part” quite like this, but what a powerful gift of love this couple had!

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