My patient is in his 20s and has suffered from a pulmonary disease since he was three years old. Recently, rejected for a heart-lung transplant he has become hospice appropriate; there are no further aggressive treatments left.
He and his fiancée wanted to get married in the Catholic Church but there was some hold up on her paperwork; and the nurse was getting concerned that the patient was declining. So, after some deliberation by both the bride and groom and their parents, they called the chaplain and on Valentine’s Day at four o’clock, surrounded by members of their families, we huddled together in a small living room, read scriptures, prayed, and listened to them as they made their promises to love, support, and cherish each other. We clapped. We hugged and we toasted them with plastic cups of sweet wine.
At work the following week a colleague asked me the reason for the ceremony. The question surprised me and she elaborated. She wanted to know if there was some financial incentive or green card at stake for a member of the couple.
She wondered if there would be property to share or an insurance benefit to be had. “No,” I answered. “As far as I know there is no logical reason for their choice, no rational explanation for this union.” And my colleague then smiled and shrugged. “Then I guess it’s really like any other wedding, isn’t it?”
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Later, while reflecting upon this conversation, the Valentine wedding, along with all of the other nuptials over the years that I have blessed, I realized my co-worker was right. I realized that even with a terminal prognosis there wasn’t that much that was different for this couple than for any other choosing to get married.
After all, no one standing at an altar promising to love, honor, and cherish another really considers what the future might bring. No one making those vows really thinks that there’s a 50 percent chance that their union will end in divorce. No one imagines betrayal or disappointment. No one measures how long forever really is.
It seems to me that in the end, every wedding ceremony is an act of faith. Every promise, as well-meaning and well-intentioned as it might be, is still tentative. And yet, maybe that’s why weddings are so special and poignant, why they might even be deemed in our society as necessary.
They’re special and poignant and important because while knowing everything we do about divorce and disappointment and even death, couples say, we say, let us choose love.
Even with what we know and what we don’t know, we decide to be together. It might not be rational or practical or even have a very good reason to do so but really, is there anything more important, more special that that?
Surely, nothing in this world is better than to see what trouble might be looming ahead of you and still make a promise to love.
Lynne Hinton is a minister and author: www.lynnehinton.com