By: Charles Laws
I had spoken to her several times in church but did not know her very well. I noticed a sparkle in her blue eyes every time we greeted one another. At the time I was teaching the Senior Adult Sunday School class she was also attending. I had thought about asking her for a date, but felt a bit awkward about it, due to the fact that I was her teacher. I had planned an outing for the class to go to a restaurant called Memories in Etowah, a small town about a half-hour drive away. Ah, I had a plan! I called everyone in the class to see how many were interested in going and when I called her I discretely asked her to be my guest, in other words, I asked her for a date!
When we got on the bus we sat down together, and it was as if we had known each other much longer. The restaurant was very nice with lighting that created an ambiance all around us. When we got back to the church each of us got back in our cars to go home and I told her that I enjoyed being with her, and she did likewise. As we left I watched her drive away in her black Ford and I missed her already. I told myself that it couldn’t be, not that fast. I was falling in love with her! Little did I know it, but she was falling in love with me as well.
The next day we would have dinner again which would be the beginning of many more meals together and a beautiful love. In Chatsworth, Georgia there is an Italian restaurant called Little Roma where you can sit outside and watch the trains go by. I still remember our having lunch there, sitting outside watching the train go by as I held her hand in mine.
Somewhere in North Georgia, there is a park with a river flowing through it. Very likely this was not the first time I kissed her, but I remember kissing her as she sat on a bench in the park. We looked for that park many times after that, but could never find it again. I think of that park often and wish that we could go back, but we can’t as you will see. It holds many good memories.
On August 3 we were having ice cream at a shop called The Specialty Shoppe in Cleveland. I bought her a lovely blue ring, a “promise ring” and placed it on her finger. In her scrapbook, she writes, “I m ready to be yours for a LIFETIME.” True love is not selfish, but is the result of making someone else happy.” Likewise, I thought, sadness is a result of seeing someone that you truly love suffer.
” True love is not selfish, but is the result of making someone else happy.” Likewise, I thought, sadness is a result of seeing someone that you truly love suffer.
We set our date to get married on September 29 and could not wait to tell all of our family and friends the good news! They were all elated but not surprised because true love showed itself in the sparkle in both of our eyes. We both wanted a church wedding so it was time to talk to the pastor. The next Sunday, September 12 after the service I spoke with Pastor O’Neal. I sat down and said “Jeanne and I want to get married and want you to do the ceremony for us.” He knew that we were always together in church, holding hands with joy on our faces because each of us had found ‘true love’, the kind that doesn’t happen all of the time. He said, “You’re old enough to know what you’re doing.” And agreed to marry us in the church.
We went out to dinner to celebrate and then went to the mall to buy rings, then we sat down on a bench in the mall and I officially proposed to her by placing an engagement ring on her finger. She loved rings and jewelry, but the one she had just received was very special to her. My memory of this is etched deep in my heart and I will never forget it. She had two rings now, one more to go.
During the next service, Pastor David said that he had a special announcement to make and announced that Charles and Jeanne were being married on September 29 at 8:00 p.m. You could have heard a pin drop! Everyone was really surprised but very happy for us.
Two years later I retired which gave us much more time together. She was free to go shopping by herself or with friends and or get her hair or nails done and I too was given freedom, because before we were married, both of us had all the freedom we wished to have. However, neither of us wanted to do much without the other. We were always together and just enjoyed the other’s companionship. There is a small park in Charleston, Tennessee a small town just a short distance north of Cleveland, where I went to take a walk in the evening and that was my “alone time” to walk and meditate. She wanted me to carry my cell phone and call her when I got there, just to know that I was alright. My Jeanne was always watching out for me.
After about eight years the unexpected began to happen. When we would go out to church, shopping, to a concert, or for a walk she would lose her balance and fall with no predictability. I would call 911 to and she would be taken to the hospital for evaluation. This would continue over the next year with the ambulance having to respond dozens of times, no real diagnosis and this would become our new normal.
Jeanne remained sharp mentally but she was losing her motor skills rapidly. Our daughter, Shirley would come almost every month as she spent time with her mom and also managed her health care. We took her to many specialists who would perform test after test yet still no diagnosis. I am still amazed at my dear wife’s strength, courage, and her constant faith even as she was becoming very ill.
It was winter now, as I remember leaving Life Care Rehabilitation Center in the evening and walking through the ice to get to the car. My lovely Jeanne had been admitted for physical therapy. It was all of our hopes they could help her to rebuild her strength so we could get back to our adventures we so enjoyed together. Little did we know that Medicare will pay for Nursing Home care as long as you are improving, as determined by an evaluation by the therapists. It came time for her evaluation and it was determined that she was not improving and she was discharged to return home.
In the next few months we continued to search for answers and a diagnosis as the love of my life, Jeanne’s health continued to steadily worsen. She is now unable to move her limbs and unable to feed herself or leave the house without her electric wheelchair, assistance, and public handicapped transportation.
Jeanne said to me one day “If I had known all this, I would not have married you and put you through all this.” She deserved an honest answer! I told her that we vowed to be with each other in sickness and in health. That is more than words written on a sheet of paper. I also told her that she did not know that she would get sick and that I was glad to be with her and take care of her in her time of need. The answer that I gave her was from my heart. She would have done the same thing for me!
It has now been eighteen months as Jeanne’s health continued to fail. We all witnessed her brave determination to not only recover from whatever this was that was attacking her body her but to live life every day with great joy. Our daughter Shirley, had come to Cleveland to see her mom once again as she had been almost every month for the last 18 months to manage her Mom’s care. One early afternoon, as we were sitting in the living room talking Jeanne said that she wasn’t feeling well and needed to go to the hospital. She was transported to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga via ambulance. Our hopes once again were that we would be blessed with a specialist in neurology at Erlanger that would finally give us a diagnosis.
Jeanne was admitted to ICU and a large team of doctors began to run many tests and were committed to finding a diagnosis. A couple weeks later finally a diagnosis! It was bittersweet as we were given a diagnosis, but it was one that was devastating to us all, especially to Jeanne. She was in the final stages of ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It was irreversible, there was no treatment and there was no cure. Until this point Jeanne and all of us had hope and now we all clung to every moment of each passing day. We treasured the memories of each new day and still, Jeanne chose joy! She chose to continue to have that sparkle in her eyes that I so clearly remember the first time I saw her. She was bedridden now, unable to move in any way, unable to feed or care for herself but her mind was as sharp and as aware as ever. Despite her fate and knowing her life here would soon be ending she continued to enjoy whatever possible from her hospital bed. My loving wife maintained her faith in God and relished in the joy of being surrounded by family and friends throughout her journey for the rest of her days.
In the coming days the most difficult decision my daughter, Shirley, and I had to make had come. There was nothing more the doctors or hospital could do for her as her lungs had begun to fail her now as well. We made the agonizing decision to move Jeanne to Chattanooga Hospice where they would remove her breathing tube and make her as comfortable as possible. We were told she would most likely pass away when the tube was removed but they were in for a surprise! Our Jeanne was a fighter! She had fought for the last 2 years and she would continue to do so until her last moment on this earth.
Surrounded by family and her closest friends the doctors removed the breathing tube. We all prayed with Jeanne and then anxiously watched as the tube was removed and she struggled to breathe, fighting for each and every breath. Hours later, no longer filled with hope but the painful reality of what would soon be our loss and Heavens gain, we all gathered around Jeanne’s bed. We laughed, cried and told stories of our fondest memories we each had with our Jeanne. I held her hand on one side as her daughter held the other as Jeanne suddenly became quiet, no longer struggling as she drew her last breath. Her spirit left her body and flew away to Heaven. Jeanne, a loving wife, mom, grandma, sister, daughter, friend to many and a child of God lived for five and a half hours after the breathing tube was removed.
Later that evening after arriving home from Chattanooga Hospice exhausted and numb from my loss I sat in Jeanne’s favorite chair in our living room. I was reminiscing about all our years together like a storybook in my mind when I glanced over at the coffee table and something caught my attention. There on the coffee table laid an album titled “Memories.” Jeanne was always sentimental and saved little pieces of our life together in her scrapbook. I picked up the album and as I did so a small card fell out. I picked it up to see what it was and it was a business card from “Memories” the very first restaurant from the very first date I had taken Jeanne to. I turned the card over and Jeanne had written on the back of the card, “Went here as Charlie’s guest and the rest is History.” I am confident that I will see her again. I am sure that one day she will look down here on the earth and say “Charlie, are you coming to see me today?” I will answer “Sweetie, I have missed you so much and I am on my way!” Then all that we have gone through down here will be just “Memories.”