Fifty years ago, on Father’s Day, June 16, 1968, my love and I exchanged vows in a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony. This year our 50th anniversary fell on a Saturday. I envisioned a party with our family and friends, eating great food and enjoying entertainment featuring a piano/violin concert by our two granddaughters.
As the date got closer and my love got sicker and weaker, I let go of the party plans. “But we’ve got to find some way to mark the occasion,” I insisted to my GaGa friend. “Since we can’t have a party, we could ask all the people we’d invite to our party to send us an anniversary message, pix, memory, wisdom or whimsy for a memory book.”
We made a celebration plan: we sent an email to family and friends with our request and asked them to send it by June 16. We made reservations for 2 nights at a spa in Sonoma the day after our anniversary. We were excited and hopeful – even though we had to have an oxygen concentrator delivered to our hotel room by Apria Healthcare before we arrived. We got everything coordinated and started envisioning our celebration. We’d spend June 16 together and see how the day unfolded. We’d talk about our years together, do some writing and Sonny would draw some cartoons. Then we’d drive up to the Oysterette for some oysters on the half-shell and champagne.
On the morning of June 16, at 4 am, I heard Sonny call out, “Donne, I’m having trouble breathing!” I came in and found him sitting in a chair gasping for breath. I was scared and so was he. Imagine a heavy weight pushing down on your chest preventing you from taking a deep breath. He’s felt this way before and I’ve talked him down. But this time nothing worked, not meditation, not music, not calming tea. After failing to reverse his distress, we dressed and surrendered to reality. I drove him to the ER where he spent the next 6 hours before he was admitted to the hospital.
As I raced to the ER, I thought of our wedding vows: to love each other in sickness and in health. Yes, sure — but did it have to be on the day of our golden anniversary … in the ER?
As Carly Simon sang in “Legend In Your Own Time:” — “This isn’t exactly what we had planned …”
After Sonny was comfortable and out of danger, I phoned the spa and through tears, managed to tell them my husband was in the ER and we would not be arriving there the following day.
I spent the next 4 hours watching the doctors help stabilize Sonny so that he could be admitted to the hospital. My heart broke – for him, for me, for us. I was scared for us too. What did this mean … not just for the next 3 days but for life after that?
I got updates from the doctors and relayed them to our family. I kept feeling a sense of disbelief at the timing of this emergency. We’ll certainly remember how we celebrated our 50th in the years to come. And what a story we’ll have to tell!
When he was finally comfortably settled in his hospital room, I took his hand and we reminded each other that we were together. That’s what really matters — it always has — through the highs and lows of our half-century together. When I say “half-century,” it sounds like such a long time. I should feel older than I do. But the incredible thing is, the time feels short and I can’t help thinking, I want more.
In the week since Sonny’s emergency and hospital stay, I’ve experienced so many highs and lows. I keep reminding myself that I’m a resilient woman. I’ve had to bounce back from many blows in life. I always put up a good fight until I realize it’s impossible to overcome — then I remember, as hard as it is: to surrender patiently and embrace fully whatever it is you’re stuck in.
Two Helpful Resources
Susan Piver’s book, The Four Noble Truths of Love explains that:
- Relationships never stabilize. When you solve one problem, another arises. They’re constantly in flux because they’re alive.
- Expecting relationships to be stable is what makes them unstable. Thinking a relationship will finally come to rest in a peaceful place is exactly what makes us uncomfortable. When we soften that expectation, an enormous space opens up.
- Meeting the instability together is love. We need to ride the never-ending waves of connection, desire, dullness, joy and disconnection through illness, together. When you do, you’ll find an ever-present invitation to deepen intimacy, whether you agree or disagree, are delighted or confounded by each other.
The essence is that we can’t cling to the past and wish it were different or the way it used to be. Wishing for that is what causes us to struggle.
Beth Miller’s book, The Woman’s Book of Resilience: 12 Qualities to Cultivate. Beth spoke to our GaGa Sisterhood in May 2013. In my blog post, How to Strengthen Your Resilience, she reminds us that the single most important quality we need to develop in order to cope with our complex lives is resilience.
I’m consciously practicing patience and compassion and reminding myself that our strength lies in our flexibility. Resilience gives us a bigger perspective and allows us to become aware of creative and kind solutions—a way of being that is open and responsive to all sorts of possibilities.
Sonny and I haven’t officially celebrated our anniversary yet. But we did give each other a precious gift — the knowledge that our love for each other is strong enough to withstand disappointment and adversity.