“You are never too old to set another goal
or dream another dream.” ~ C. S. Lewis ~
Dave watched as I carried household goods from one side of the street to the other. Probably, I was an interesting diversion for him; now in his eleventh month of mourning. Cathy, his wife, had died of cancer and those last six months were dreadful, horrible, awful, almost too much to bear for Cathy and for Dave as he watched her slowly slip from the land of the living to the land of shadows to the other side. Theirs was a love born of youth when they’d met in college and neither had dated many, if any, people and certainly none very seriously.
Five years prior to Cathy’s death she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. Once diagnosed, she and Dave fought it together; side by side they would sit in various doctors’ offices or the hospital, listening to the latest news, considering their options, making decisions, being brave soldiers always together. From my, now distant, vantage point and experience, it’s the “being brave soldiers always together” that made any of it bearable. For either of them. For either of us.
In October 1987, Cathy walked onto the plane, destination an Arizona business trip. A week later, she was wheeled off the plane, never to walk again without assistance. The cancer metastasized and the fight renewed with a vengeance, but in March she died and Dave’s descent into hell already begun. He lost himself in the quiet darkness of their home, in the bottom of limitless cans of beer and endless cartons of cigarettes. Night after night after night he would drink, smoke and wait for his end, pray for his end. It didn’t come; at least, not then.
I was living across the street in a small two room apartment but, in true urban fashion, had never met any of my neighbors. One day, just to be friendly, I took notes around the small community and invited all to my apartment for tea. Living two doors down from Dave, two little old ladies showed up, blue hair and white gloves, to sit and chat while we drank tea and ate homemade cookies. They told me Miss Campbell had passed away and her little cottage, the one between them and Dave, was for sale. They put me in touch with Mr. Campbell, the brother, and in a few weeks, I was the proud owner…me and the bank…of that little cottage. It was a cozy cottage, one thousand square feet, room enough and then some, for me and the cat.
From his front window, Dave watched as, through the February snowstorm, I trudged household goods from one door stoop to the other. On one trip, he ventured onto his front porch and called to me, “Would you like some help?”
Puhlez! Free help?! I like to think I was charming as I, through frozen blue lips, called back, “Yes, and thank you!” In a minute, he, wearing a blue down parka, met me at my little apartment. I sized him up and gave him a small lamp to carry; surely he could manage a small lamp…please God! He did and made about three more trips before I took pity on him. “Would you like a cup of coffee?” From the tobacco smell, he probably needed a cig break as well. He did and he did so we sat and chatted while he drank a cup of black coffee and took hard drags on his cigarette. His accent told me he was from West Virginia while he admitted he thought I was stealing from Miss Campbell. That floored me! I asked for clarification and he said, “Well, I could see you carrying stuff and, knowing Miss Campbell had died, I thought, perhaps you were robbing the place.”
Choking back laughter I said, “But if I were stealing, wouldn’t I be carrying things OUT of her house and not INTO her house?” The look on his face was priceless! “Oh yeah”, he admitted. “That’s right.”
Our courtship began as friendship. We both needed the safety net of someone who didn’t place demands, who didn’t want anything other than to share a meal or a cup of coffee. I carried the scars of so many disappointments; Dave carried the scars of losing his best friend and love of his youth. So, having nothing much to lose, we were totally honest with each other and that honesty carried us through our life together.
That first week, Dave invited me for a meal and took me to a neighborhood restaurant. He said, “Order anything you want” and I looked at him like, “is there an option?” Many years later we would, often, talk about that first meal; I ordered steak, salad and potato and then, so did Dave. It pleased him I didn’t order simply a salad and use some “female excuse”, as he put it, to say, “Oh, I’m not really that hungry. I’ll just have a salad.” I told him, “I should have been military. I eat when it’s there and I sleep when I can and, by the way, don’t expect sexual favors for this meal.” He had a hearty laugh and nodded his head, affirming what he’d heard; it was a while before I found out, he’d been a Captain in the Army.
As time went by, we introduced each other to family and friends. One person, when I introduced the two of them, told me later, “What on earth do you see in him? He smokes and he drinks and he looks terrible.”
Interesting question but it told me more about the one asking the question. What I saw in Dave was a man who, eleven months later, was still in deep mourning. A man who loved more faithfully than I’d ever known possible. A man who was willing to die but committed to living because his life wasn’t his own. Even then, he would say, “if there is a God, I leave God’s business to Him; it’s enough I take care of my own.”
Therein is the crux of the matter. If Dave loved that deeply, that faithfully, that truly the wife of his youth, I was willing to wait for whatever he had left when he came out the other side.
Eventually, I taught Dave how to love again and he taught me how to trust again. We made a formidable team and people always thought of “Dave and Sandra”; almost never “Dave” or “Sandra”; that was right and telling.
Now, from the vantage point of almost six decades, I listen to young wives and husbands and wish I could tell them, “You can’t possibly know what you don’t know but know this…most of what you’re talking about, fighting about, arguing about simply Does Not Matter. Better a loaf of bread made with love than a meal eaten in anger. Better a glass of ice tea shared on the porch in companionable silence than a bottle of champagne sipped through clenched lips and bitter words. Better memories of love than memories of strife. Look beyond the obvious, look beyond the physical and look with your heart. Better yet, look with God’s heart. Be the man, or woman, after God’s own heart and it…life…will fall into place. Yes, you’ll have tests, trials and tribulations but being brave soldiers together will, not only make life bearable, it will make life wonderful. Trust your eyes but listen to your heart; your heart will guide you in a courageous risk.
Sandra Bennett spent the best one third of her life married to Dave Bricker and building Thistle Cove Farm. After more than a decade of asking Dave if he wanted to go to church each Sunday, he finally said yes, then made his peace with God only five days before his sudden and unexpected death. Sandra strives to be a woman after God’s own heart while keeping up the farm and helping others make life preparations. She may be reached at [email protected].