We sipped tea and sat among tiny cross-stitched pillows. Slowly, she let herself unfold from inside her grief stricken stoicism, and she told us that he taught her what it meant to love. That he had saved every scrap of paper illustrating their life together – even the cards they had sent each other from before, unsigned and full of unspoken things. That he warmed her hands at the end of every day as they shared tales of their lives, some old and some new. That he hugged her often and gave her small gifts from each day – a flower, maybe an article from the paper – always some treasure he found. That he was there for her – all the time and without hesitation. That he held her tightly inside their own delicious existence.
I had been taken with their story from the beginning: even on the face of it, they were a study in opposites. He was an owl and she was a tropical bird. He was a spry pale German man of slight stature, wire rimmed glasses and gnarled hands. He was a widower with no children and a restless imaginative mind. He tinkered with things. He fixed objects and invented solutions to practical problems, like how to connect different gauges of fire hose valves together. He did not speak often and did not believe in God.
She was a buxom African-American woman 20 years his junior, and always had a cheery story to tell. She was a nurse, nurturing sick patients with her compassion. She listened to people in times of pain and need and touched their hot foreheads with her soft cool hands. She fervently prayed to and believed in Jesus Christ as lord and savior.
They had met over 25 years ago when she had taken care of his elderly parents. He had waited until his own wife died to seek her out again, and she had abandoned a long and unhappy marriage to be with him – and to finally be happy together. They both had an enormous work ethic and a wide streak of stubborn rebellion. He regularly sported a safety orange cloth hat and she could sometimes be seen with an ashen white mohawk and dangling earrings. They eventually married to quiet any issues of inpropriety as he declined in health. And I just loved them together. Loved.
“We were from very different worlds but in our hearts, we spoke the same language.” She bowed her head into her teacup and said quietly, “I know that I will see him again. I know this cannot be the end – it was just too beautiful to ever really stop.”
I did not remind her that he did not believe in such a thing.