My parents have been married 60 years. Dad will not be here to celebrate a 61st anniversary with Mom. Dad is dying from cancer. He is getting hospice care at home, but Mom is in charge and is Dad's primary care giver. They have five sons and two daughters. We provide physical and emotional support, doing any lifting, household chores, errands. We listen as needed or hover in the background until called, respecting their private time as we take turns staying with them. It is at once an intimate, exhausting and deeply moving experience for everyone.
We children, not present during our parents' courtship, are now witnessing a kind of inverse courtship as their relationship here draws to a close with all the intensity and passion with which it began.
Mom now displays the ardor Dad once showed to get her to the altar of their nuptial Mass, as she prepares to take him to the altar for his funeral Mass, where their sons will be the groomsmen and their daughters the bridesmaids. Meanwhile Mom is attentive to Dad's needs, solicitous of his desires, patient in making sure she understands him and that he understands her.
The atmosphere in the house is quiet, not like a hospital or library, but like a monastery. No television or radio disturbs the peace. Visitors are received; mail and the daily newspaper are delivered and read. When Dad is awake there is conversation and even laughter, more laughter than you might expect. Dad is still lucid, though now bed bound. Reading has become difficult for him, so Mom reads their morning and evening prayers and Dad gives the responses. Certain psalms and prayers strike chords that start Mom crying gently as she reads. In the evening, after dinner, Mom reads aloud from a book chosen by Dad and they discuss the passage. Tears can well up unexpectedly anytime from anyone in the house.
Love is on a collision course with death, grief and eternity. At that intersection stands the crucified and risen Christ.
St. Paul of the Cross, whose feast is celebrated October 20, addresses the meeting of love and grief in one of his letters. He writes about the passion of Christ and the suffering we must all endure if we dare to love the Lord. But it applies equally well to enduring love between a man and a woman, husband and wife, who have become "one flesh."
"Love is a unifying virtue which takes upon itself the torments of its beloved Lord. It is a fire reaching through to the inmost soul. It transforms the lover into the one loved. More deeply, love intermingles with grief, and grief with love, and a certain blending of love and grief occurs. They become so united that we can no longer distinguish love from grief, nor grief from love. Thus the loving heart rejoices in its sorrow and exults in its grieving love."
If our love is unquenchable we will, sooner or later, enter into its flames, believing we will meet the Lord, and all those we love, there. Then we will live the prayer:
"Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindled in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created, and thou shall renew the face of the earth."