Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NASB
As I face what is clearly about to be the worst days of my life, walking the body of my wife, my best friend, to its final resting place, I am holding on to the love that Joelle and I shared throughout our thirty-six years of knowing each other. I can truly say that it is that love that is the greatest gift in my life and I am so grateful to have experienced this love.
One never forgets their first crush. When I was eleven years old, I admittedly had a mad crush on a girl, who I will simply call Andie. Despite thinking at the time that I was head over heels over her, Andie told one of my friends that I didn’t know what love is. Being as young as we are, talk about someone who seemed wise well beyond their years. It was true. I really didn’t know what love was at the time, and it has taken me a lifetime so far to figure it out. While there are a lot of things that I my relationship with Joelle taught me what love is, there are also a lot of things that I have learned what love is not.
I have learned that real and lasting love takes time. In fact, it takes lots of time. Television and movies have us believing that we are able to find true and long lasting love in the course of two hours, if not less. Is it any wonder why the divorce rate is so high? Joelle put a decal on the wall in the front hallway of our house that every one of her wedding clients would see when they first walked into our house. It read:
Love at first sight is easy to explain. The real miracle is when you are able to look at each other the same way after twenty-five years.
I can say that after all of the years, I didn’t just look at Joelle the same way. I looked at Joelle with far more love than when I first fell for her, and I fell for Joelle far harder than ever. There were a lot of events in our lives. Plenty of great events, such as witnessing the birth of all of our children. Also, plenty of not so great events, and periods of struggle. I stood by Joelle as she was finding herself through her many businesses and eventually standing beside her in one of them. Did we fight? Oh yes! Some were doozies. But the one thing we learned to do was not run away. At the end of the day, we ran to each other. Throughout all of the things we went through, my love for Joelle grew stronger day by data . My love for Joelle was far more than a movie. It was a journey that we shared together.
I know that we shared true love when it got put to the test for the last twenty-one months we would ever be together here on this earth.
First, with my leg injury rendering me immobile for 10 weeks. I felt so helpless and never found myself depending on someone to take care of me for almost every chore from the simplest such as preparing my meals to the dirtiest such as embarrassing bathroom assistance, Joelle did it and never gave it a second thought. I felt so bad feeling that she had been reduced to doing these duties that I was so dependent on. Joelle just looked at me and said, “for better or for worse”. I could almost feel my heart melt. She even made my first time being able to go out of the house a momentous occasion, driving me down to Hamilton and putting me in a wheelchair and taking me to see Robin Mark in concert and meet him after the show. We even celebrated beforehand by going to The Keg and when they asked if we were celebrating anything, she excitedly said, “we’re celebrating his first time out of the house since his injury”. It made me realize all of the amazing little things she did for me throughout our lives together. Not to mention all of the amazing things she ever did for our children. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, she went so far out of her way all because of love. She never questioned it and she never walked away no matter how tough the moment got.
Then the worst happened: her seventeen month long battle with cancer. My heart sank to the pit of my soul. I cried endlessly wondering how the hell could someone so giving and selfless be inflicted with such a punishment? I felt that I deserved it, and not her. With a strong resolve, I swore that I would never leave her side. I would stand beside her in her fight, no matter how tough, not realizing just how tough that battle would be. I went down with her to her first few chemotherapy treatments. Then it got harder. I saw how sick she was getting from all of the poison running through her body. Her two surgeries, one planned and one unplanned, were nothing short of heart wrenching. Late nights at the hospital and traveling home at 3am, because I wanted to know that Joelle would be resting and would be okay before I would make that 100Km trip. In time, the duties increased because of the surgeries and chemotherapy. I had to start learning new duties as I promised her that I would be her caregiver and take care of her no matter what. I started realizing what love was all about. Real love is giving without any expectation of receiving anything in return. It was that same giving that Joelle gave to me when I was helpless. I found myself doing wanting to do anything for her so willingly and without any notion to question or complain about what needed to be done. I gladly took on more and more as I saw Joelle was able to do less and less. I remember her crying, apologizing for putting me through this and I kissed her and said “for better or worse”.
“For better or worse” became a familiar phrase that I held in my heart. While I hoped deep inside that things would get better, reality was that things were getting worse. Yet, the worse things got, the more I wanted to ensure that she would be happy and comfortable. Despite feeling overwhelmed and starting to need a bit of respite time, I didn’t really feel like my needs mattered because I would eventually be faced with all of the free time that I never wanted. I wanted to have as much time with her and be the husband I wanted to be. I felt that this was my last chance. At this point, love meant being sacrificial. It boiled down to what I was willing to give up for the woman I truly loved. Personal music time had to be put aside along with changing a few routines. I used every vacation day from work to spend as much time as I could with Joelle. Even in the face of a company policy change of turning one of our Christmas break days into an unpaid day unless we applied a vacation day to it, I chose to use that day for spending with Joelle, because a day with Joelle was far more valuable than a day’s pay and I would totally regret trying to cut my time with her in order to save some money. If anything, I wanted to be with her as she celebrated what would be her final set of goals, regardless of what it would cost.
True love isn’t about butterflies and fairy tales. True love is sharing both life’s triumphs and trials. True love is unconditional love even when the one you love feels unloveable. True love is about the willingness to stand beside the ones that you love as they suffer and suffer with them. It is about giving them everything and expecting nothing. It is about doing the jobs you swore you’d never do, and not give it a second thought. It is about never leaving their side no matter how tough the battle ahead is. It is about walking with them, and possibly carrying them, right to the end, even if it means carrying the pain of knowing that you will never be able to look at their face, other than a picture, or hear their voice outside of a recording, or feel a daily 20 second hug. Love is keeping the promises you made, even if you secretly hoped you wouldn’t have to. And anyone that believes that love doesn’t hurt has never fully experienced the feeling of their heart being ripped in two as they say their final goodbye, or the empty void that was once filled with their presence that lit up even the darkest places of your heart. If you think all of the above sounds like a lot of pain, think again. It is the most beautiful experience one could ever have.
So yes, I learned what love is. I experienced love in its truest form and I am grateful to God for it. My love experienced with Joelle had taught me how God must have felt when Jesus died on the cross. Not to mention how much God loved me enough to sacrifice His Son on the cross. To me, it is a love so beautiful and probably only happens once in a lifetime. However, if you ask if I would ever go through everything that I went through all over again in the name of true love, I probably would because true love is worth it all.