In Sickness and in Health
There’s a picture of my friend George and his wife, Patty, slow-dancing in their old age that hangs next to Patty’s bed. I did not realize until today how sick Patty was. George, who cares for her nearly constantly now, told me the story today of how they met in the late 1960s. At that time, Patty was a part-time secretary at the N.C. Forest Service and a young widow with two small children recovering from her previous husband’s tragic death. (His truck had plunged off a bridge in Michigan into a river in the middle of January.) George, having narrowly avoided a trip to Vietnam after being drafted, had taken the first job he could find and was a stranger in a strange town. He says Patty “conned” him into their first date, loudly exclaiming her disappointment over the office phone that her friends had backed out of their bowling night at a time when he was sure to be listening. He took the bait and asked her out, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Patty no longer recognizes George and could not respond to him even if she did. He talks to her plenty anyway, feeding, bathing, and caring for her every single day. His love for her is clear—he always refers to her as “my wife,” as in “Excuse me, I’m going to go into the other room real quick and turn my wife onto her other side.”
"People ask me occasionally whether I wouldn’t enjoy a day off," he says, grinning. "Wouldn’t I rather someone else took care of her for a while? That just ain’t me. I want to be near her as long as I can." There’s a joy in his voice as he says it, the same joy evident in his eyes in that picture of better days that hangs next to his wife’s bed. With the benefit of retrospect, I know that the love in that picture was genuine, for it has not faded, even though she cannot return his gaze, even though she no longer remembers his name.