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Our 50th Anniversary Celebration — in the ER


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.

15 thoughts on “Our 50th Anniversary Celebration — in the ER”

  1. Diana McDonough

    Dear Donne – what a lovely memento – and a reminder to all of us about the flexibility life requires, and how embracing it helps us. Thank you for modeling that for us! – Diana

  2. Elizabeth Lewis

    Thank you for sharing your story! It was touching and brought up so many issues about relationships, resilience and the caregiver’s role. I really liked the idea of facing “new realities” as we age. It’s hard to accept changes.
    When I hit a wall, just as you do, I write. I felt that I was along with you on your Anniversary weekend. You aren’t alone.
    My best wishes for strength for you and stabilization of health issues for Sonny.

  3. Donna Valentino

    Donne, you are so generous to share your story with us. We can all identity with different aspects of your experience, but your strength and resilience sets a beautiful example. Much love to you and yours.

  4. Kathleen Knott

    Sorry for your disappointment Dear Donne but so relieved and happy as I read further to find out that you two still have each other to hold and love. Beautifully written and beautifully illustrated by artist Sonny! Both very talented and loving souls who have much, much more to share one day at a time……… these Irish eyes are welling over with tears. Joy to you both dear ones ❤️❤️.

  5. Diane and Jon Levinson

    I too was moved to tears just reading your sweet and sensitive words. Jon has Sonny on his prayer list – for healing and strength to cope.
    With love and hugs, Diane

  6. Sandy Deagman

    Hi Donne, What a poignant, lovely, and very personal story. Thank you for sharing and demonstrating the true meaning of love . . . and the vow “for better or worse.” It’s ok to visit disappointment, but it’s not a great place to dwell. The resilience and gratitude both you and Sonny have shown have hopefully kicked disappointment’s butt. For now, you and Sonny, together, are celebrating each other and your marriage, a lovely celebration on its own. However, I am wishing for more luxurious and pleasant accommodations for your next celebration. Hugs, Sandy

  7. Oh, Donne, that was a beautiful, and yet anxiety-filled, story! I’m so glad that you and Sonny are together in the here and now. Because yes, that IS what counts. Looking ahead is natural for us; plans have to made to give our lives stability, as well as joy. But life has a way of teaching us to not cling to plans, and to expect the unexpected. For better or for worse (just like marriage vows state!). Some life lessons just have to be learned, often the hard way.

    I wish you many more years together, through the good and the bad! And thank you for sharing your anniversary story- a reminder about love and resilience!

  8. I’m so glad that your husband stabilized and you will be able to have that celebration! Congratulations!

    Thank you for sharing your story and for the information in the Helpful Resources section.

    I have had to deal with monumental difficulties in some of my relationships as well as general life circumstances. Your advice, I believe, will stay with me and help me to remember to be resilient.

    Please tell your husband for me that I liked his cartoon! I am a nurse and my mother had COPD so I can relate!

  9. Somehow I think this anniversary date will be celebrated in the future with even more joy, gratitude, and enthusiasm than originally planned! I wish you the very best, Donne! Sonny is a treasure and so are you!

  10. Carolyn Kennedy

    Kick up your heels, smear cake all over yourselves and have a whipped cream fight. Gently and lovingly of course. I’m sad you had to postpone your 50th anniversary celebration but how wonderful you have one to celebrate.
    All the best

  11. Martha Menestrina

    Beautifully told, Donne. Thank you for sharing your love story! All the best to you both.

  12. Thank you for sharing your story.It brought me to tears . You see, my parents have been married 75 yrs now and I always thought and wanted to grow old with someone like you both.

    Sadly this was not to be for me. I also would have been married 50 yrsj June 8 .

    I can tell you fully understand what marriage is and I celebrate you both. Much happiness.

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