Loving well isn’t always glamorous, sensual, or tidy. More often it’s inconvenient, exhausting, and sacrificial.
I witnessed this practice of loving well as part of a team of women who cooked meals for a homebound elderly couple. The wife, Ruth, passed away four years ago. The husband, John, passed away this month.
The ministry provided a weekly meal to this couple. My team cooked and delivered meals once every six weeks. Don’t be too impressed. I’m not a gourmet chef. I’m not even an average cook. I’m sure I enjoyed John’s company more than he savored my meals.
When I first visited, Ruth was suffering and in the latter stages of dementia. She was not agreeable by this time, but John defended her: “She’s not the person I married, but I still love her. She took care of me all these years. It’s my turn to take care of her.” Mind you he was 94 years old at that time!
Ruth’s final weeks were spent in bed. One visit, he invited me back to her bedroom where she slept peacefully. He talked to her but no response. He sang the Symrna High school song. She sang along. He sang a hymn. Again, she joined in, her voice trailing off around the second verse.
I felt like I had invaded their sacred space—a space and bond reserved only for a husband and wife. Yet, he openly shared this intimate moment. I choked on the lyrics as I tried to blend my voice with theirs.
This, I thought, is what the end of marriage looks like—for better or worse, in sickness and in health—when the marriage trail dwindles off and time on Earth is racing. This couple clung to their vows for 67 years and embraced them to the end of the trail, never realizing the cost of those vows from their marriage ceremony.
After Ruth passed away, John made two important decisions: He quit driving (his driver’s license expired when he turned 100), and he started walking every day.
After he mourned a while, he regaled me with stories of growing up on the farm, the Model T, his three-plus years of service in World War II, and grandchildren. Many times, I’d hear the same stories, but I didn’t mind. He took pleasure in telling them; I enjoyed hearing them again.
His sense of humor returned. One time while visiting, he promptly dismissed a phone solicitor saying he didn’t have time for the survey. He then sat down and said, “And you know I have plenty of time!”
But the months and years started stealing John’s health. His memory wasn’t as sharp. His mobility dwindled. For the last year and a half his son, daughter, or daughter-in-law stayed overnight with him. They sacrificed their relationships and time so John could remain in his home and be tended by family. At his funeral service, his grandsons led the worship music, carrying on their familial practice of loving well.
I’m going to miss John and our visits. He would have turned 100 years old over Thanksgiving weekend. I went into this meal ministry selfishly thinking I was the one loving well; but instead, I observed firsthand what loving well looks like. And I was the blessed one.