Several years ago I was visiting a nursing home as part of a volunteer program organized by my local parish. I was serving as a youth leader at the time, and enjoyed going monthly to visit the elderly. I knew that I was doing something good, but I had no idea just how much it would do for me.
As I entered the nursing home one day I noticed a new couple sitting on the far right side of the common living area. I did my rounds to my elderly friends that I knew by name, and then went up to meet the newcomers. The man’s name was Antoun, and he had only just moved his wife in three weeks earlier. I sat down to ask Antoun about his wife, and their love story, and what I heard that day changed my life and understanding of love forever.
Antoun had been married to his wife 53 years. After 25 years she suffered a severe stroke, which left her unable to speak. Antoun’s eyes filled with tears as he told me how painful it had been to not hear the beautiful sound of his wife’s voice for 28 years. She would tell him through a gentle touch on his hand, or a smile with her warm eyes that she appreciated what he was doing for her. They were still communicating, but not like before, and this caused them both great sorrow.
whilst describing all this, Antoun was spoon feeding her, her lunch, and casually – almost without looking – wiping the drool that would fall from her mouth. Tragically on their 50th wedding anniversary, she suffered a stroke more severe than the first, which totally took away her ability to reason, recognize or remember – for the rest of her life she would sit and stare into nothing. He had bathed her, toileted her and fed her. He took her everywhere they needed to go; on dates, to the doctors and to church for the past 28 years, and she had no idea understanding of who he was. That beautiful smile, he would never see again. He told me painfully that only 3 weeks ago, his health had become so bad that he was unable to care fulltime for her anymore from home, and needed professional help in a nursing home.
Tears began to trickle down his cheek as he wiped the remaining baby food from her lips with the spoon. Before long he was passing me tissues as well! Anyone that knows me well knows that I am extremely emotional. This story and example of love rocked me to my core, as I sat there in awe of his commitment to his wedding vows, his wife and to their love. I had never seen a love so inspiring as this in my whole life. Antoun told me that day that love is not give and take; it is one hundred per cent give! It doesn’t matter how much someone is giving back, or how much someone is capable of giving back; marital love gives everything without ever focusing on the self. Love is not give and take!
I was in total amazement seeing all of this, wondering if I would ever be able to love my future wife as deeply as him one day. For every man reading this, something in us yearns to love as heroically as this! For every woman, I’m sure a similar desire pulls on your heartstrings and hopes that you would be loved in this way someday!
4 weeks later I returned to see Antoun. After looking everywhere for him I asked the nurses where he and his wife were. She told me that his wife had died peacefully a few days earlier, with Antoun, the love of her life, sitting beside her, holding her close.
I took a deep breath… and thanked God for my life-changing meeting with Antoun. I have probably shared Antoun’s story with thousands of people around Australia, and so often after a talk people will say that this story was the most powerful part of my whole presentation. I can’t thank Antoun enough for what he taught me that day. He changed my life, and many others forever!