This month my husband and I visited a dear friend that lost his wife a couple of months ago. They met in high school when he was 16 years old and within 2 months he knew that she was “the one.” They were married for 66 years.
I met Dick and Joan about 20 years ago. My husband had spent a summer on their farm in Iowa after high school. When we moved to Minnesota, thousands of miles from home, we became family. I remember visiting the first time and being a little shocked at their routine. Dick would get up early to feed the animals and do the chores. When he came back in, Joan was there waiting to fry fresh eggs and sausage. Afterwards, he would sit and smoke his cigar while Joan pleasantly chatted, did the dishes, and cleaned the kitchen until it shined. The rest of the meals were the same – Dick never lifted a finger to help with anything – the cooking, getting something from the fridge, or clean up. Honestly, it kind of bothered me, but looking back on it, there was not one ounce of resentment in Joan. She loved serving Dick and she loved taking care of him.
Evenings were filled with reading or playing the organ. Dick and Joan didn’t have a television, computer, or any screen that I recall. They had “his and her” Barcaloungers where they sat side by side until it was time to call it a night.
As we were visiting this weekend, I could not help but notice the pieces of Joan left around the house. Her reading glasses gently placed on the nightstand, her worn Bible next to the reading lamp, a list of things to buy the next day, her everyday shoes carefully laid under the bench in the mudroom. It made me feel as if Joan could breeze in at any moment with a pitcher of lemonade and a plate of cookies.
Dick and Joan had a couple of months to prepare when routine blood work showed she had less than 6 months to live. It is hard to imagine the shock and the conversations that went on, but my guess is for the most part, life went on as usual. The morning she died, Joan had gone to church alone, like she had their entire marriage. By afternoon she was in a lot of pain and asked Dick to call for help. Two home nurses and 3 ambulances filled the driveway and as Dick nervously puffed on his cigar, the nurse snapped, “Can you put that thing out?” Once they took Joan to the hospital and relieved her with Morphine, she was never really back and passed within 12 hours.
Even though they loved each other, marriage could not have been all easy for them. Dick worked long hours on the farm, filled Joan’s clean house with cigar smoke and never helped in the kitchen or with housework. But Joan never turned bitter. There was no resentment, snide comments, sarcasm, or nagging. And just like the day she died, on Sundays Joan headed off to church alone. I can imagine the years she spent praying for Dick, letting go, and trusting. God was her first love and He provided every thing she needed.
When we visited, Dick had a hard time talking about Joan without choking up. His eyes would light up as he talked about their years together and then he would roll into sadness. How do you go on when what filled your life is gone? To not hear her voice call for dinner, feel the warmth of her well-worn hand or sense the stillness of a woman surrendered and at peace with God. Dick eats because he knows he has to, but he doesn’t feel like doing anything else. Joan is gone and Dick is absolutely lost.
After we left I kept thinking, I should have told Dick how blessed he was – to have a woman that loved him for a life time, was content just reading next to him, and that lit up his eyes with a twinkle that could not be mistaken.
He was blessed – but I suppose he already knows that.