I wasn’t there when my parents said their marriage vows 61 years ago, but I was there when their vows were fulfilled. Both the beginning of their union and the end were marked with a kiss. Bearing witness to this moment was one of the most holy honors of my life.
In mid-September my 87-year-old father became sick, and we soon realized that it was an illness that would result in his death. With the dawning of this knowledge, our approach to his care changed from desperate efforts to save him to loving choices to provide him comfort. I watched my strong, capable, problem-solver of a mother surrender her will to accept his fate, and in so doing, transform into a tender, patient lover, attending to her beloved until death finally came.
After a two-day stay in the hospital, Dad was brought home so that Mom could be by his side and tend to him during his remaining days. A hospital bed was assembled in their bedroom, taking up space beside their king-sized bed, and so they continued to sleep side by side, separated only by a metal rail, for the next thirteen nights.
During the days I watched as Mom sat in a rocker that she had pulled up beside his bed. I wondered what she was thinking as she sat there watching him sleep. How does one reflect on a lifetime of memories as time seems to be running out? How does one accept death’s imminent approach? How does one prepare to say goodbye? From the room next door, I was grappling with these same questions—a daughter preparing to release her father—but I wondered, how does my mother—his steadfast companion for six decades—let him go?
When Dad would stir, Mom would rush to his side to offer care—to raise the bed, lower the bed, adjust his pillow, add a blanket, remove a blanket. She would fuss over him until finally my husband or myself would come to stand beside her and assure her that he was okay. She would tenderly brush his wispy white hair from his forehead and return to the rocker as he returned to sleep.
On the day that he died, I had just entered the bedroom and sat down in the rocker when his breathing paused for a long beat. I went to find Mom.
“Mom, I think it’s time,” I quietly said, and she looked at me with knowing eyes.
She went into the bedroom and sat on a chair pulled closely beside the head of the hospital bed. Gently touching his face, she bore witness as he soon took his final two breaths. Then, in the sacred silence that followed, with tears streaming, she slowly leaned over and gave him a kiss.
I stood in awe, watching, and could imagine her voice penetrating the silence:
“I take you to be my husband. I promise to love you, comfort and keep you, and forsaking all others remain true to you, as long as we both shall live”
Faithful to the very end.
Susan Tucker is a lifelong lover of story, and with curiosity and openness, she often explores in her writing the tension that life holds. A former English teacher, Susan loves meaningful use of language, especially when used to stir the soul and whet one’s appetite for more truth, goodness, and beauty. Compelled by a burgeoning interest in trauma recovery, she pursued training at The Allender Center, completing the Certificate in Narrative Focused Trauma Care, Level I and Level 2. Susan and Tim, her husband of 27 years, are the parents of two sons, now young adults, and adjusting to their newly empty nest.nbsp