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For Better or for Worse, In Sickness and in Health: A Story

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I am compelled to share a story with the ENA community that has really touched me and made me think about what marriage vows really mean.


In 2004, while working as a university recruiter advising prospective students who were interested in pursuing careers in the disability field, I met with an older man who told me he was interested in enrolling in courses to become a certified special education teacher. What drove him to look at the program was that his wife was in an accident and suffered a severe Traumatic Brain Injury, as well as partial paralysis.


He told me that when she was first in the hospital in a coma, the doctors told him that she had no chance of a cognitive recovery. He would not accept this answer. When his wife was medically stable enough to come off of life support, he left his long time job and began caring for her at home. His wife could no longer walk and had to use a wheelchair. She had lost all means of communication and all means of advanced cognitive processing. Her intellectual capacity had reduced to that of an infant.


He decided to go back to college for special education teaching courses, solely so that he could learn how to teach his wife everything from the beginning again. Every day, aside from the physcial care he provided, he gave her constant sensory experiences, read to her, planned a curriculum, presented her with new information. He was able to receive some respite care (help with looking over her while he was not home) from the state. This allowed him to run errands and go to night classes at the university. He borrowed various adapted literature and story boxes so that he could read classic novels to her. I remember the day that he said to me "Just because my wife is disabled doesn't mean she should have to look at preschool books like 'Frog meets Toad', I want her to experience 'Romeo and Juilette' again."


Over the past years, he would would e-mail me or stop on my office to let me know how she was doing. One day he came in and told me he was delighted that she had started being able to speak one-word utterances in response to questions, and was able to use assistive technology to communicate other words. She made progress far beyond what the doctors ever thought was possible.



I changed jobs at the university last year, so I had not heard much from this student since then. Last week, I came back to my new office from a meeting. My secretary told me that an older man had come in to donate a wheelchair to my office, as it had been used by his wife that has passed away. I immediately felt a sinking feeling in my heart. I asked my secretary for the name of the man, and it was him.


I went into the bathroom and cried.


In all my life, I have never seen a spouse so dedicated to caring for their partner. He had made it the focus of his life and education for past decade. It made me think a lot about what these vows truly mean and how many of us may take them for granted at one time or another. I was also very touched that he would want me to have her chair. Though I have not managed to look at it once yet without filling with tears.

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What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing that, Bella.


I feel so sad for the gentleman; but to be that kind of person in the first place is to have no regrets for all that he did.


It certainly is a rare testament to the strength of the vows. But it's more than just loyalty. It's love of a kind that I have to wonder comes along that often. I've heard and known such stories...and deep down, wondered what made this couple special. It seems to speak to what a beautiful relationship they must have had before the accident. Was it how much one was capable of loving? Or how extraordinarily the other was lovable? Or both?


I wonder how it must have felt to have been loved that much.

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That is only the love someone can hope for. I'm going through a hard time right now and reading this actually helps me a bit... helps me to think this person never cared enough as this man did. I need to find someone who will love his spouse this much. It's very heart warming that someone is so in love and devoted to someone and fought so hard. It's incredible.

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You know what I also got from your story - the sense that he did not try to or want accolades for his efforts- he just quietly did what he believed needed to be done. He didn't even tell you he was donating the wheelchair, right? What a true hero.


That's right, and that is exactly how he was. He never complained, never wore it on his sleeve, he just took care of her in a very natural way, because he wanted to. and thought it was the right thing to do. He never said a thing to me about donating the chair. Had my scretary not asked his name I would have not known it was him. I was able to contact him based on college records.

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Just so everyone can know that he is ok: I talked with him today to thank him for the chair and he seemed in good spirits and said that he was offered a job overseas in Europe that he is thinking of taking and said he was relieved that she is in peace.


I'm so glad you took the time to contact him. That says something great about you as well.


He couldn't have managed to do what he did for his wife without your and everyone else's help. Just goes to show how much we all really do rely on each other.

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