I enjoy live theater. There is something about the live interaction and the energy between the characters and the audience that draws me into the experience. Last week I visited a local theater to watch the world premier of a play. On this occasion, the story was set in a hospital waiting room where a woman was staying while her husband was in the final stages of a terminal illness. The play represented several days and I watched as the cast portrayed various family members and strangers interacting as the wife talked about life and her marriage.
As you have probably already surmised, the play brought back many memories of my own stay in the hospital with my terminally ill wife. Recognizing the intensity of the play intersecting with my life experience, the person I was enjoying the play with gently touched my forearm and asked if I would like to leave during intermission. With slightly moist eyes I was able to respond with a “no, I’m fine” and then explain that unlike the principal character in the play, my memories of the seventy-some days in the hospital with Carrie are of a generally pleasant nature and thinking about my marriage with Carrie brings back wonderful, fulfilling thoughts.
Today it seems strange to say that I felt at home in the hospital with Carrie. Maybe it is the old adage “home is where the heart is” and my heart certainly was wherever Carrie was. My residence during those days was known as Nine-Webber-North. I wonder if I will ever forget that floor designation. During those weeks I built relationships with the nursing staff, memorized the artwork on the walls of the floor, was on a first name basis with the food service staff, and was seen so regularly at the hospital Wendy’s that they started giving me the hospital employee discount—even after I informed them that I was just staying with my wife. All of those experiences were part of the overall experience of living through Carrie’s illness and illustrate the broad interaction one has with those who have been entrusted with caring for those who are ill.
Despite the great difficulty under dire circumstances, I recognized, even in the moment, that the time of being present—emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically—with Carrie was intensely intimate. The experience through a terminal illness brought new depth to my understanding of love, commitment, self-sacrifice, and the important things in life—ideals that perpetuate every successful marriage. The experience made me a better man, a better husband, and gave me a clearer picture of how Jesus Christ loves His Church.
When something such as the play brings back memories, they are welcomed. Although the time was most difficult, it was a time that dispensed life-changing lessons, a time that presented the opportunity to demonstrate character, a time that punctuated the meaning of the love. A time, despite its sadness, for which I am most grateful.
The play also brought about moments to contemplate my life as it is today. Although I have still not settled into a “new normal”, I have a zeal for the possibilities still in this life. I have a healthy sense that my biological clock is ticking. Not as an aging spinster pining away for children, but as one who recognizes that life is preciousness, precariousness and short.
So, thank you playwright for the opportunity to reminisce even as I look toward a future with hope.