Loving Someone Through Sickness & Health

When most of us repeat our wedding vows, especially when we’re young,  it’s easy to imagine and anticipate the “better,”  “the richer,” and the “in health” portion of the ceremony. I have wondered if anyone would actually go through with it if they understood how difficult maintaining a lifelong commitment can be.



My question was answered last fall when I spoke at a caregiving conference in Santa Barbara, California where I met Jo Bakker, an elegant woman, who was very well acquainted with the “worse” and “sickness” portions of the vows she had taken fifty-seven years earlier. Jo had been caring for Tom, her 83-year-old husband, who had been suffering from the impact of Parkinson’s for several years. Before the disease ravaged his body and mind, Tom had been a successful businessman. He worked for Xerox in marketing research.

As the disease progressed, he lost the ability to express himself in words that others could understand. Jo said that whenever family visited, he spoke to them as if he was conducting a business meeting. Although no one could understand a word he said, they nodded their heads in agreement and told him that his plans made good sense.

Then one evening in January 2017, he turned to Jo and said, “Will you marry me?” She was stunned and so happy that she could understand what he said, she immediately replied, “Oh, yes! Oh, yes!”

When she told her son about the proposal, he said, “Why don’t you two renew your vows?”

Two weeks later, the family gathered for the occasion. Tom and Jo’s daughter created a bouquet from the garden and helped her mother get dressed. Their son brought a coat and bow tie for Tom, helped him dress, and pinned a boutonniere from their rosebush on his lapel. Their son-in-law performed the ceremony, and their grandson and granddaughter took the photos.

Did Tom recall that he had proposed to Jo? Possibly.

Did he remember that he had married her the first time in 1960? Maybe. Maybe not.

Did he feel special that day? Absolutely!

Parkinson’s had stolen a lot of Tom’s abilities, skills, and memories. But even if he couldn’t identify his wife, children, or grandchildren by their names, he still knew they were special to him. And all of them knew that Tom was still capable of being loved.

I received an email from Jo recently. She told me Tom died just before Christmas. Jo is a woman of faith, and she is confident that Tom is now at peace.

Some people who would hear this story and look at the photos might think, “Isn’t that sweet!”

Anyone who has cared for a loved one through a long-term, progressive and degenerative disease will know that there is nothing “sweet” about keeping a lifelong commitment to love, honor, and cherish another person.

By accepting Tom’s proposal and renewing her wedding vows, Jo was able to recall a happier time. She created a joyous experience for her husband. And perhaps, most importantly, she demonstrated for her children and grandchildren how it is possible to find the strength, courage, and character to continue to love and care for someone “until death do us part.”

I would love to hear from you. If you have a question or comment, please email me: Elaine@EKSanchez.com.