A Love Story

Death ends a life, not a relationship”. Mitch Albom

Today, March 31, 2021 was the last full day Brian spent on earth. In the early morning of April 1, I stood beside him as he took his last breath, left his Parkinson’s and dementia behind and went Home to a place where he had so lovingly helped countless others go before. And, while I am left with an empty place in my life, I am comforted by the fact that he is at peace and happy, my special guardian angel watching out for me from above. In memory of our 27 years of life together, I’d like to share the story of how we met. I still smile every time I think of it.

A Love Story in the Making

In the important relationships of our lives, each of us have our stories of how it all began. Whether a chance meeting, a carefully plotted encounter, or one engineered with a little help from a friend, the moment in time when the universe brings two people together is a big part of their story. It is, after all, the beginning of something that added richness to their lives. That moment, was for me, the start of what would turn out to be a 29 year love story; one full of ups and downs, good times and bad, but, none-the-less, rich with wonderful memories. Memories that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world — not even the pain that death brought when it ended this relationship far too soon.

Looking back on how our story began, I often wonder how in the world it worked out like it did. In the end, however I eventually stopped wondering about the answer to that question and decided it was simply meant to be.

In 1992 I was a recently divorced 42-year-old teacher with lots of debt, plenty of baggage, and four wonderful children, ranging in age from 6 to 19. Not exactly what you’d call promising marriage material. I was struggling to make it in my new-found reality, juggling work, the lives of four active children, financial insecurity, and loneliness. Of all these complex aspects of my life, the one that received the least attention was the loneliness. Not because it was insignificant, mind you, but because I was simply too busy (and too tired!) to ever get around to acknowledging it. And, in the end, I knew that the simple act of acknowledgement made me vulnerable, and I certainly did not need any more of that in my life. So, when a handsome interim pastor showed up at the church I attended, striking up a relationship with him was the farthest thing from my mind. It would seem, however, that God and the universe had other plans.

The small town where I lived at the time, and where and where Brian was serving as an interim pastor, always had a big parade down Main Street on the 4th of July. And so it happened that both of us ended up next to each other, watching the parade. While my two children joined in the scramble of collecting candy thrown from parade entries, the two of us made the usual small talk. The more we talked, the more I got a feeling inside me that there was something special about this man standing next to me. While I didn’t really know him, he still made me feel at ease, and I felt a spark of interest that I hadn’t even known was possible. In short, I definitely wanted to get to know him better. And so it was that I decided to find a way to do just that. In town where our family had lived before moving to where we were then, my oldest daughter had been part of a drum and bugle corps. Long before I became a drum corps groupie and followed her around to performances, I’d fallen in love with the drum section of a marching bad. I’d recently learned that there was going to be an exhibition by several corps in a near-by town, so I asked my new friend if he’d like to go. Knowing that he was divorced, had a young son, and when he was in our small town for the weekend he stayed at the local hotel, I thought he might be up for a change of pace, and, much to my delight, he said he thought that was a great idea! So, unbeknownst to either of us, the wheels had begun to turn in what would grow from friendship into love.

Now, I know you are probably thinking; “So, wait . . . that’s it? What’s so unusual or memorable about that?” And, I would agree, were there not more to the story.

The afternoon of the exhibition we met each other outside the stadium. Brian and I hung around and talked after the event was over and I was waiting for my daughter. If memory serves me right, he mentioned something about “getting together again sometime,” and with a little ripple of excitement running through my body I said that I would like that. And, with that we said good-by and headed home. The activities of a single, working mother of four took over my life and I didn’t think much more about it. That is, until a few weeks later when I received a call from my new found pastor friend asking if I’d like to go out to dinner with him in a nearby town. “Hmmm . . .. interesting”, I remember thinking. And, because this was what I’d hoped was eventually going to happen, it did not take me long to accept his invitation. Several days later he appeared at my door to pick me up for our date . . . or at least I thought it was a date. After all, he’d called me, right? And there he was, dressed very nicely, knocking at my door and walking me to the car. Though I couldn’t be entirely sure, this certainly looked like a date to me: He’d called and asked, then he came to pick me up, and like the perfect gentleman I would later learn that he was, he’d walked me to the car and opened my door for me. I was pretty sure that this was a real date!

I distinctly remember his car: it was a well-loved brown station wagon. After we got in and settled, he turned to me and made a request, which was the start of a strange, yet wonderful evening. In the small river town where I lived, Main Street ran right along the banks of the Mississippi. On the side across from the riverbank was an assortment of various businesses ranging from several bars to an ice-cream shop and everything in-between. It was the most likely spot in town to see — and to be seen — by townspeople. This, it seemed was a problem. My “date” explained to me that there was a rule about pastors not dating someone from their parish, and since he technically was only an interim pastor and not the “real” pastor of the church he was serving, he didn’t think this applied to him. But, since he had not been able to check this out yet with the “powers that be” he wasn’t sure and he didn’t want to make any waves or get into trouble. SO, he asked if, on the way out of town I would duck down below the dashboard so no one would see the two of us leaving town together. Looking back on this I don’t know why I agreed to the strange request, but I did: I ducked way down, totally out of sight and waited for the “all clear” to right myself. As I would later find out in the course of our courtship and marriage, just about every aspect of a pastor’s life is fair game for discussion/gossip, and open to interpretation by parishioners — especially so when it involved a single, divorced pastor and a divorced local elementary school teacher. Even so, you’ll have to admit this was a pretty bizarre start to the date!

We made it out of town, my presence undetected. Now, all of my life I have never been one to order the most expensive thing on the menu, no matter who was paying for it. So, I don’t remember what I ordered, but it was excellent and just the right amount for me. We had a wonderful, leisurely supper, full of good conversation, laughter, and getting to know each other. The wheels started turning in my head and I thought that I could feel my heart beat just a little faster. Perhaps this handsome, well-mannered, very nice man sitting across from me in this restaurant could be more to me than just a one-night-date. I found the prospects of that to be absolutely thrilling. We finished our meal and the waitress came and asked us if the checks would be separate or together. You can imagine my surprise when I heard him say, “Separate, please.” I am not sure what my face looked like when I heard that, but my mind was saying, loud and clear; “What?!” I thought to myself,” This is certainly an unexpected turn of events! It’s a good thing I have enough money with me to pay for it!” So, I paid my bill and kept wondering what was going to happen next?! What happened next was as much of a surprise to me as was the now infamous (at least between the two of us!) Dutch Treat Date. We had a wonderful time talking on the way home, and after he walked me to the door (sounding more and more like a date all the time, right?) he looked at me and said, “I’d like to see you again, if that’s OK.” And, once again, to my surprise I said; “Yes, I’d like that very much!” He smiled at me. I smiled at him; and the rest, as they say, is history!

There were many times during our marriage that I reminded Brian of that eventful first date when I unexpectedly had to pay for my own meal. Each time I would jokingly say, “You are so lucky to have ended up with me, because after that first “date” I am not sure why I ever decided to go out with you again!” And, in reply, he would always give that wonderful smile of his and assure me that his luck changed for the better when he met me. Deep down in my heart I know that I was the lucky one, too, because I never thought I would find someone like him to love and spend the rest of my life with.

While our married life did not turn out to be the rest of my life, it did turn out, unfortunately to be true for him. On April 1, 2021, the part of our marriage vows where we promised to be together “until death parts us” came to pass. After 13 years of fighting his Parkisnon’s disease as a team, God freed him from its grip and called him home. It was a wonderful 27 years, and I would gladly duck down in the front seat of the car to go out on a Dutch treat date with him anytime. I was one lucky woman to have found someone like Brian, and my love for him will remain in my heart forever.

My Dearest Brian: I loved you then. I love you still. I’ll love you forever — I always will.

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