Friday, February 15, 2008

Wife Rule #17: I'm With You to the End

I attended the funeral today of a good friend's mother. Ever since my father-in-law died about four years ago, I have had a special spot in my heart for widows and widowers. For this reason, I watched her husband closely as he walked slowly up the isle in the chapel and took his seat in front of her casket on the first row.

She was 77 years old, and had lived a good life, but I don't imagine that made her passing any easier on him. She was his wife, a part of his soul. After a lifetime together, I have no doubt that he felt just like Father Adam did when he explained his feelings about Eve: "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, for she was taken out of Man." (Genesis 2:23).

I didn't get a chance to see his face up close, but if I had, I'm sure I would have seen etched into the lines in his skin a pain--a deep, deep pain as if bone and flesh had been taken out of him and he was no longer whole. For that is how two truly unified people feel, when one is taken away; they feel incomplete, lost, and alone.

This wasn't the first time he had lost his wife. The cruel torments of dementia had taken his wife from him years ago. As mental illness usually does, it started gradually, one step at a time. I can't imagine what it must have been like as he slowly came to the realization that he was losing the woman he loved. It its full-blown stage, the disease took her mind completely. She fabricated elaborate stories and plans, which might have been humorous had the situation not been so serious. She resisted fiercely those, like her husband, who tried to help her see reality. She she fought; she argued; she spent their retirement money on imaginary needs; and eventually she terminated their marriage. During the last weeks of her life, her children consulted with their dad to discover his wishes before giving their legal voice in decision-making, since that legal privilege had been taken away from him.

Through years of these trials, he never wavered. He stuck by her. He watched over her when she didn't want him around. He never, ever stopped caring for her. He suffered greatly both because of her actions, and because he could not stop caring for her. Just as one hurts when one's body is infected and sore, he hurt with the illness of his wife. And just as one doesn't simply give up on one's own body, but clings to life, he clung to her in every way he could.

I wondered what would be spoken about their last few years at the funeral. I wondered whether the two-ton elephant in the room would be acknowledged.

But it never was, because it wasn't there.

Yes, there were passing references to the illness of the last years of her life. There were references to the sainthood that surely awaited her husband. But the illness wasn't important to talk about because it wasn't what defined her. Whatever limitations may have afflicted her body had no bearing on her spirit. Her family understands this. Her husband understands this, and in the end, all that matters is that she loved her husband, and he loved her.

At the time of their passing they were still husband and wife. Their legal marriage status had been severed according to man's authority, but when they joined together sixty years ago under God's authority, they formed an eternal union. Said the Savior to Peter, to whom he gave such eternal authority, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (Matthew 18:18). My friend's parents organized their eternal family as a covenant marriage, and it was solemnized by one holding the same authority that Peter had. Such bonds cannot be broken by any authority on earth. Such bonds cannot even be broken by death. There is no "until death do you part," or "as long as you both shall live," in an eternal marriage. Such covenant bonds can only be ended willingly and consciously, and thus had never been broken. The contract with the state had been severed, but the promises of God are still in force.

So to my wife, as we approach our tenth anniversary, let me reaffirm my promise to you: I'm with you to the end; I'm yours for eternity. We set out on this adventure together knowing it would never have to end, and I am determined to see that we make it last forever.


Amy said...

Matt, that was absolutely beautiful! As fro myself, I have been without words on my blog, other than to post the obituary. I haven't known how to adequately say what was in my heart the day of the funeral. You said what needed to be said. May I quote or link to your post on my blog?

And you are absolutely correct about Bruce's face. He was a wreck. That was the hardest thing about this whole thing. He took it so hard. He misses her so much. You could not look at his face and think badly of Jean, seeing how much he loved her, and how much pain it was for him to lose her, at least mortally.

But yes, we are glad that her spirit is freed from the body, and we are very glad that she and Bruce can be together for eternity, both healthy and clear of mind.

Thank you for your beautiful tribute.

LuckyMatt said...

Amy, please do link or copy the text or whatever you want. I was touched by the funeral and I hope my tribute to your in-laws was fitting.

Sylvia said...

very beautifully written - thanks for sharing it -