Father Andrew arrived early and put on his vestments. He wore his best like it was some cathedral and we were a king and a queen. The two witnesses he brought were dressed up nicely too, not ruffles and tux, but he wore a really nice suit and she had on a lovely Ukrainian blouse and skirt and roses in her hair. She brought a little bouquet for me and a carnation for John. The nurse put it in his pajama buttonhole. He smiled with surprise at its red color and admired it.
Father Andrew asked him, “John, do you know who this is?”
“Oh yes, she loves me.”
“Ok, that is all I need to know.” He signed the declaration of competence and handed it to the witnesses for signature. It said that John had been found to be competent and sound of mind. I had another one which said the same thing signed by the nurses from the awful day when I had to ask him to write out a will. Most days he did not know he was dying. He watched cartoons and sang songs with me and slept when he wasn’t in pain. The babysitter brought the children in then all dressed up and we all admired them. John looked at them in wonder as they greeted him with hugs.
“Are we married already?” he asked quietly.
“Yes, dear, but not in the church.”
“Oh, so now we will be married in the church, but this isn’t a church, is it?”
“It is tonight,” said Father Andrew.
John brightened, “Oh good. Mama will like that. How long have we been married but not in the church?” he asked with a glance at the children. He liked them. He knew they were his, but he couldn’t quite figure out how, just as he knew I was his wife. “It will be fifteen years tomorrow, love.” He was impressed. Just then, John’s younger brother, Nick, arrived, having flown in from San Francisco when the other relatives had arrived a few days earlier. The others had left, but when the nurse told me John had pneumonia, and that they would only treat it if I insisted, I paged Nick at the airport and he came back. He had been busy all day taking care of things for his job on the phone, then he had come for the ceremony. John knew him and was delighted.
The ceremony was quiet and short, but when it finished we were duly married in the eyes of God and the church. John was quite impressed with the little cake the nurses brought in and shared with us. There was no bride or groom on it but lots of roses. We served him up a pile of the lovely butter cream frosting roses. They were easy to eat. The hot chocolate with little marshmallows delighted the kids and John’s eyes sparkled. I don’t think he ever had this as a child, but he used to make it for the children every Sunday morning. After the cake and drinks, Father Andrew packed up to leave, saying he would mail me the marriage certificate, and wishing me a happy anniversary.
The children and I shared a few minutes with John until he dropped off to sleep. The nurse had explained that he was getting his pain killer from the pump now, so he would not feel anything, since there was a steady stream of it. So they chatted a bit and he drifted off. Nick sent the babysitter home and he left with the children, promising to bring them back in the morning. I blessed the wonderful social worker who had arranged her for me. It gave me precious time.
The nurses brought another bed in and pushed it up next to John’s. I took a walk to the solarium and had a coffee, sitting in the dark, watching the stars, talking to God, begging for a reprieve, knowing it would not be granted, but not knowing why. I slept holding John’s hand and woke when he needed help with the bedpan. I took it to the toilet and came back to make him comfortable. It was just before dawn, and there was lovely lacy frost on the windowpane. The rising sun made it glisten and John was fascinated by the scene. Then he looked at me and noticed how one breast was rather poking out of my now loosened gown. He seemed entranced, so I bared the breast and his eyes got very large but his smile was more like you expect on the face of a child. I let the other strap fall and he said in wonder, “You have two of them!” I showed him it was okay to fondle, and he cuddled and fondled a bit before he fell asleep again, this time with an angelic smile on his face.
Our roses were delivered at noon: fifteen long stemmed red roses, one for each year of our marriage. The children had arrived at ten and were outside playing a while until lunchtime. We had a lovely lunch of pretty little sandwiches, some little cups of jello with fruit and whipped cream, pudding and cake. This time the cake was larger and had fifteen candles on it, with “Happy Fifteenth Anniversary!” written on it. There was me and the children, the nurses and John’s brother Nick. John could no longer talk, but he was enjoying the day.
The lady who had been accompanying me on the piano for all the concerts in the solarium arrived and they pushed a piano into the solarium, then rolled John’s bed there. She played and I sang, “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” John was so excited he threw up and that ended the song. “I stopped singing and a nurse rushed up to him to help with a basin, but too late. She was telling him it was okay when he looked at me with a most desperate look on his face. I said, “Thank you, Darling. I am glad you liked the song. You are the only man in the world who can do that and make me smile.” I knew he understood, because he looked calm again and smiled back. The nurses took John back to the room to clean him up and change the bedding, and one of the social workers served the cake.
John looked completely mollified as I entered with the vase full of roses. “These are ours,” I said, “one for each wonderful year of our marriage.” I watched his finger twitch as he counted them. It’s okay. We will be okay,” I told him. “I promise.” I did not cry. I smiled. Then I turned to put the roses on the shelf in front of the window, and I felt him go, quiet as a whisper.
He had made it to the day, and I let him go, and would have changed my mind if I could have in that instant. It is hard to let go of the love of your life. I have reminded myself every day since that I had what most people only dream of: the unconditional love of a good man. I have to say to those who are contemplating marriage, that they should cherish every moment. Eventually, the pain fades to a dull ache, and you are left mostly with the joy of the love you shared.