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All that is, has been, will be, and will not be

In honor of Valentine’s Day, allow me to share this story with you, as told by a nurse.

It was a busy morning, about 8:30, when an elderly gentleman in his 80s arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He said he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9 a.m.

I took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would be able to see him. I saw him looking at his watch and decided, since I was not busy with another patient, I would evaluate his wound. On exam, it was well healed, so I talked to one of the doctors and got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound.

While taking care of his wound, I asked him if he had another doctor’s appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry. The gentleman told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. I enquired as to her health.

He told me that she has been there for a while, and that she was a victim of Alzheimer’s Disease. As we talked, I asked if she would be upset if he was a bit late. He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now.

I was surprised, and asked him, “And you still go every morning, even though she doesn’t know who you are?”

He smiled as he patted my hand and said, “She doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.”

I had to hold back tears as he left. I had goose bumps on my arms, and thought, “That is the kind of love I want in my life.”

True love is neither physical, nor romantic. True love is an acceptance of all that is, has been, will be and will not be. The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything they have.

In four months, Tom and I will celebrate 37 years of marriage. It has been a good partnership based on understanding, respect and sharing of interests (with the occasional tongue-biting).

I recently came across an old textbook that I had used in home economics class during my year as a Form 2 (eighth-grade) student in Malaysia. Here’s an excerpt from this late 1950s home economics textbook.

“How to be a good wife. Have dinner ready. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs.

“Prepare yourself. Take a minute to touch up your makeup. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.

“Clear away the clutter. Run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order.

“Prepare the children. Take a minute to wash their hands and faces, and if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.

“Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of washer, dryer, dishwasher or vacuum. Encourage the children to be quiet. Greet him with a smile and be glad to see him.

“Some don’ts. Don’t greet him with problems or complaints. Make him comfortable in his favorite chair or suggest he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soft, soothing and pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.

“Make the evenings his. Never complain if he doesn’t take you out to dinner or to other places of entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to be home and relax.

“Your goal. Try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.”

At the time I was being instructed on the dos and don’ts of being a good wife, the advice sounded sane, right and doable. Besides, I had a role model at home.

In this day and age, all the above advice sounds so arcane, so old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.

In reading that old home economics textbook in the attic, I realized how much I’ve changed, how much we’ve all changed over time to adapt to current circumstances. And marriage is accepting and adapting to changes in our spouse; in the situations surrounding our marital relationships. My husband is a working partner in keeping our marriage sound. Together we’ll grow older, wiser and rely more on each other to succeed in this ever-changing world.

By the way, I wonder what he’s cooking for dinner tonight. And if he has dusted the furniture.

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