She was a pretty, brown-eyed girl from a small town. He was a handsome, small-town musician. He told his mama after he met her he knew he would spend the rest of his life with her, and he did.
On a sweltering summer day in a South Carolina church, they made promises to each other…
Promises to love.
Promises to cherish.
Promises meant to last forever.
They didn’t have much money, but they had each other and soon their family grew. My brother and I became part of their love story and we learned from our parents how to love well. No matter the address, our house was always a home where love lived.
The years brought good times and not-so-good times, as the years are prone to do. The young lovers attended weddings and funerals. They fought and made up. They laughed and cried. They made memories. They became parents and parents-in-law and grandparents.
One fall, he started having symptoms no one could explain. Something inside her told her this was something big. After several appointments, the doctor said the words no one ever wants to hear. It was cancer. It was bad. He might not have long.
So she fought for him. She researched and googled and called and emailed. She never left his side during the surgeries and the treatments and the therapies. She argued with doctors and refused to take no for an answer. She had leaned on him, but now she was his strength. Sometimes love means fighting like your life depends on it. And so they fought together.
So that day she packed his things and took him to the home they shared. And they waited for Jesus to come get him and take him to the home He’d been preparing for him. Because sometimes love means putting someone else’s needs before your own.
One day, he told her about a dream he’d had. Only it wasn’t a dream, he said, because he wasn’t asleep. He said he saw a field and in the middle of the field was a big tree. God was there and He invited him to sit with Him under the tree. He said it was a beautiful and peaceful place.
As the days passed, he talked less and slept more. But she stayed by his side. We all did. We knew he would be leaving us soon, and even though he’d said everything he was going to say to us, we just wanted to be in his presence for as long as we could.
One night–or maybe it was day; the hours seemed to run together–she curled up beside him in the bed they’d shared and she played their songs for him. Songs from the days when they were first getting to know one another. Songs that had grown to mean something to them over the years. Some of the songs were as familiar to me as the family stories we told around the dinner table at holidays, but some were songs I’d never heard before. And I was reminded that before they were my parents, they had a love story that belonged only to them. I felt like an intruder there, but I dared not move lest I break the spell of that moment. So I watched as she kept her promises…
To love and to cherish…
In the end he seemed to be caught in some sort of battle. He didn’t seem to be able to let go of the life he’d made with her or to leave the people he loved. He struggled between his desires to be here and there. He fought for every breath. It was excruciating to watch. But we stayed there with him, knowing our time together was almost done.
I watched as she held him. She leaned in close and whispered to him, “It’s okay to go home now. Go find the tree. I’ll meet you there. Wait for me under the tree.” Sometimes love has to be brave.
She was brave through the visitation and the funeral and the burial. But now she has to figure out how to be her without them. When the two have truly become one, how do they become one again? Almost four years later and there are no easy answers.
This isn’t how she planned it. It isn’t how any of us wanted it. But this is the way it is.
So she continues to love him well because that’s all she knows to do. To carry on the best she can. To finish what they started together.
In fairy tales, love stories end with happily ever after. But life isn’t a fairy tale and this world is too broken for happily ever afters to take place here. But the best love stories really are forever. I was blessed to have a front row seat to one of the greatest love stories the world has ever known. Their legacy is mine to continue.
To love, really love well. And to build a home where love can live.
Forty-five years and counting, their love story continues….
Mama, I’ve been thinking about this day for awhile now. I wanted to do something to make today easier for you. But I can’t. Some days are just hard and I’m sure today was one of those days. I wish I were better at making my words match everything in my heart, but after many attempts, this is the best I could do for now. I struggled with sharing some of these memories because they are so private and precious and beautiful to me they almost seem fragile. But I just want you to know I noticed you there. And I didn’t want any of them to be lost because they forever changed me. Thank you for loving him well. No one could have loved him more or better. Thank you both for giving us a home where love lived.