Friday, July 31, 2009

Mary and Joseph: a different story

He is grieving.


That he has something to grieve, he doesn't fully understand, is a miracle in and of itself. They, two people with intellectual disabilities, fell in love in the time of the institutions, in the time of sterilization, in the time of deep prejudice. It was a struggle, families were worried, support staff hesitant. After all, she had Down Syndrome. After all, he was clearly disabled. But they did marry. This Joseph took this Mary, and they wed.

Twenty years later, they still loved one another but her health was failing. She struggled against Alzheimer's to remember him. They struggled together to remain a family. They had proved themselves to all. They were known throughout town as a couple. As man and wife. As lover and friend. Their love, which brought fear when it was born, brought admiration when it was full grown. All knew them. All welcomed them. Every door that was opened to them, they opened. Every opportunity they had, they crafted. Every moment that they lived in freedom, they celebrated. They knew that they had won this life for themselves. Through her illness, they fought for that life with new vigour.

But new vigour was not enough.

Her death struck him like night strikes the day.

Now grief is a constant companion. But it is not alone. It has been joined by fear. Suddenly the comforting image that he had of her in heaven, under God's care, shifted. He grew fearful. He worries that she is lost on heaven's streets. That she is alone and wandering, looking for him, looking for any marker that points home. He worries that God is too busy for her, that God is with those more important, those somehow bigger than his little Mary. He imagines that heaven is full of people rushing by, knocking her this way, then that. He worries that even there, in the land of eternity, her difference is perhaps tolerated but is not welcome.

It is a trick of the hateful to put God's face on human prejudice. But it is also the temptation of the fearful. They lived a life that was full of joy, not because other's brought it to them, but because they brought it to each other. They lived a life of value, not because others saw their worth, but because they saw each other's worth. He saw woman, he saw wife, he saw lover, he saw friend. She saw man, she saw husband, she saw lover, she saw friend. They made heaven here, together. How could she have it there, then, alone.

So he mourns.

So he cries.

So his heart reaches to the sky, and beyond, to comfort her. To hold her in his prayers, waiting for God's gaze to come if it ever does.

So his soul reaches to the heaven's to find where she sits alone. To pass the time with her, waiting for others to slow and notice her there.

So he waits. Waits to see her again.

And this is love.

She, Mary, with the extra chromozone. He, Joseph with the missing piece. He needs comfort. He needs to be sure of God. He knows that heaven is real, he's just afraid that it isn't quite as beautiful as the one they made ...

(Joseph: thank your for permission to tell your story)


wendy said...

Sitting here crying. How wonderful that they lived a loving life together and how sad to be the one left behind, worrying about her even in death.

Belinda said...

What a poignant story of powerful love that doesn't know any barrier, even death.

Joseph chose well, when he placed their story in your hands.

When my mum was in anguish over the circumstances of her mother's death, she had a dream that put her heart completely at rest. I pray that for Joseph he will have a unique experience, or meet someone that will bring him peace in this situation.

"Place me like a seal over your heart, or like a seal on your arm. For love is strong as death..."
Song of Songs 8:6

Unknown said...

My heart aches for Joseph, too. Although it is bitter sweet, Joseph and Mary shared a wonderful life which in a strange way gives him the right to feel as he does. Not so long ago the right to the life they had, and therefore the right to grieve as he does, would have been denied.

I'm not sure if that makes sense, but I hope Joseph finds comfort in the support he has and in the wonderful memories.

Anonymous said...

My heart aches for him.

I hope the people in his life are aware of the reality that he could be thinking suicide.

May he find the kind of peace that he needs.

Anonymous said...

We are gathering today to say goodbye to the second half of a couple somewhat like Joseph and Mary. They were never married, but their love is still talked about and she has been gone for eight years.
Today although we will be filled with sorrow at his loss, in our hearts we will be smiling because we know he is with her again, finally.


Debra said...

Having a son with Down syndrome of my own the story brings all kinds of emotion to my heart! For their love to prevail such obstacles, my heart smiles! For finding love like I pray for my son, my heart smiles! For the loss that Joseph has endured, my heart aches! I pray that the Lord surrounds him with peace, with loving people to care for him in this difficult time, and for many blessing to come his way.

Anonymous said...

What a love story...

Kristin said...

What an incredibly beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing it and thanks to Joseph for letting you tell it.

Shan said...

That was beautiful and terrible, Dave.

Brooke said...

everyone deserves the right to love. Probably one of the best love stories, free of emotional burden, disrespect and boredom, a true lasting love. I hope he finds solace soon

Anonymous said...

I am the mum of a young man with Down's Syndrome, and I hope he has the priveledge of feeling the love that Mary and Joseph felt for each other, I was distraught over the death of my mother and I also had a dream that put me at rest, and I pray that Joseph will do the same. God does move in mysterious ways xxxx

Anonymous said...

It is so important to have told this story. Eventhough it was very sad it was real life. Relationships can be so joyful, exciting and yes paiful. It is part of the human experience and everyone should have a chance at that.

Thank you Joseph and my thoughts are with you.


Anonymous said...

An Update....

As the staff person who serves "Joseph", I first want to thank you for so eloquently describing their story. For twenty years, I have watched this couplle with amazement and joy, that our work and advocacy is not in vain. The average age of the people my coworkers and I serve is well over fifty now, and in the last few years we have been priveliged to help several through that transition we all face at the end of life.

Joseph is continuing to grieve the enormous loss of the wonderful woman who was his wife and our friend. those of us in Joseph's life have shared this blog with him, had a sweet grass ceremony in her honour and in the honour of other friends in our agency who hhave left this mortal coil. Thanks Dave for wring so beautifully about thier story. And to those of you who have commented and read this post, please know that Joseph has appreciated your support and kind thoughts!