This past Father’s Day my husband’s only request was to share a meal with his spiritual father, a wise, retired priest almost 80 years old. It didn’t come as a surprise. The past few months have been rough on this priest. He’s been in and out of his apartment, a nursing home and the hospital, suffering from infections and recovering from a fall. It’s been difficult to watch a normally agile man become weak, bouncing back and forth from poor days to good days, back to poor days and enduring all those days in between.
But there has also been so much beauty in this suffering. I have witnessed the self-sacrificial side of love through my husband as he has tenderly cared for his dear friend. Adam has been a shoulder for this man to lean on, walking with him on the hospital grounds or helping him down the stairs at his apartment. In the past couple of weeks, Adam has organized a lunch drop-off for his friend and many days has brought it himself. When this priest needed a haircut, without hesitation Adam offered to bring over our clippers and did it himself. The night we had dinner with him, Father’s hands were too weak to cut his chicken, so Adam carefully cut his meat into bite-sized pieces. It’s hard to believe that less than 10 years ago the two of them were camping in the far-off wilds of Canada, trekking through the wilderness, and now we’re waiting to receive a diagnosis from Mayo Clinic, hoping for answers that will help Father get the treatment he needs.
It is weird to say, but this time of beautiful suffering has been a gift to me. Not only am I so proud of how my husband has cared for his friend without complaint, but it has solidified my confidence that as old age eventually approaches or sickness comes, Adam will be there for me every step of the way. When I see Adam serving this priest, I no longer see an old man, but I see me. I see our future. I see me leaning on Adam’s arm as I slowly make my way down the staircase. I see Adam taking my hair between his fingertips and trimming my bangs. I see Adam’s hands cutting my chicken. I see an unglamorous love, but it’s an intense and burning love. I see a man who is living out his wedding vows to the highest degree. It’s awe-inspiring, it’s courageous, and it’s extremely humbling.
On our wedding day, there were numerous prayers that we’d live a long life together. Most notably during the nuptial blessing the priest prayed: “May they live to see their children’s children. And, after a happy old age, grant them fullness of life with the saints in the kingdom of heaven.” And again during the prayers of the faithful that we would have “good health to a ripe old age.” I sure hope we’re given that opportunity! And that’s exactly what it is: an opportunity. In our society we view the elderly as worthless, as a burden. Even in marriage this can be the case. In fact I’ve sadly seen it in my own extended family. Yes it can be hard and tiresome, but when we rise to the occasion, it can be an opportunity to let love shine, to let it deepen, to let it become more ardent and unshakable than ever before. Isn’t it the kind of love we all hope for? Isn’t it the kind of love we want our children and grandchildren to hope for? I know it’s the kind of love I want, and the kind of love my husband and I are capable of.
Who knows, maybe Adam will never have the chance to love me that way. Perhaps instead it will be me brushing his teeth, dressing him, and feeding him. But I do know that if the time should arise that I need him to bathe me, push me around in a wheelchair or lift me in and out of bed, he will be there. And he won’t just be there out of duty, but out of love. I know he will because I have already seen it.