Back in June, my cousin and his wife celebrated a milestone anniversary.
“I would marry you today all over again,” Lori recited the first line of the vow she’d written for Eric. “I would not change a thing we’ve been through together in all our 30 years,” she continued reading, sharing an entire page of love notes.
Eric said he didn’t need to write his vows down. “I just said them.”
I chuckled. My cousin is funny. But I don’t always know when he’s joking. His voice sounds incredibly serious when he tells me that I’m much, much older than he is, although he knows we were born exactly six months apart. Different month. Same day. I ignore his digs at my age. If he’d been born first, I’d be the one giving him grief.
Six years ago, Eric turned the big 5-0 and wanted to commemorate the occasion. Two of Eric’s sisters suggested a Holland America cruise to Alaska. I begged to be included. Lindsey was still single, so we shared a cabin on the ms Westerdam. For seven nights, we made a ton of new cousin memories.
Now my special daughter is married, and her husband has health issues. Lindsey continually struggles with how to support him (and herself). With all these years of experience under Eric and Lori’s marital canopy, I wanted to learn how they’ve made their marriage work. Even when times were tough.
So we met for lunch. As soon as we were seated at the table, Eric produced a six-inch, handheld magnifier from somewhere on his person, pressed a button and the magnifier light turned on. He slid the glass across the menu, reading all the possibilities.
Lori and I ordered Reuben’s, then waited a moment for Eric.
“My eyesight is getting worse and worse,” Eric said, selecting the BLT, then discreetly stashing the magnifier away as quickly as he’d produced it.
While we waited for our meals, I learned Eric (55) and Lori (57) first met when they attended special education classes at Fort Vancouver High School.
“It was love at first sight for Lori,” Eric said, sipping on his soda.
“Yes it was,” Lori said, her smile, her big brown eyes simultaneously widening.
“But not for me!” Eric said, shaking his head. “Ever since I was thirteen, I knew I didn’t want kids.”
“I wanted kids,” Lori said, her voice caught on the last word. “But I wanted Eric more.”
The waiter delivered our food. My cousin told me he wasn’t willing to compromise on the children issue. And besides, he only considered Lori to be a friend. But over the years, he often found himself at her house, visiting.
“Toward the end of his sophomore year, Eric gave me a promise ring,” Lori said, eyes misting, smile widening.
“It was a friendship ring,” Eric corrected, saying he didn’t think of Lori in that way. At first, anyway.
Once he finished high school, Eric continued his visits to Lori’s house. After one of his social calls, Lori finally told Eric, “Maybe we could try going on a date.” But Eric wasn’t so sure. The way these two described their courtship, I visualized the scene in It’s A Wonderful Life, when George Bailey visited Mary in her home. She wanted him badly, but George was unable to commit. By the end of the act, the couple was smooching in the entryway.
“I had to think about it,” Eric said, matter-of-factly, referring to Lori’s suggestion. Apparently, my cousin’s love story wasn’t going to end in quite the same way as George and Mary Bailey’s.
While Lori waited for Eric to make up his mind, she prayed, “Lord, if we’re not meant to be together, please keep Eric as far away from me so I don’t get my hopes up.”
It took Eric a month to decide.
“On our first date, we went to Sea Galley for dinner,” Eric said. I told Lori, if she wanted kids, she’d have to marry someone else.” Thirty days later, Eric proposed at Diamond Jim’s.
“I still remember that day,” Lori said, her voice trembling, her brown eyes glistening. “I said yes and we married eleven months later.”
During their thirty-year marriage, these two committed Christians have been through a lot. Eric has been hospitalized five or six times. He’s suffered a nervous breakdown, lung cancer, and heart surgery, to name a few.
And the medical issues are not one-sided. Lori has had four surgeries herself.
“So is it harder to be the patient or the caretaker?” I asked, hoping to gain some insights to share with Lindsey and Nick.
“Harder to be the sick person,” Eric answered. “Definitely the sick person. Even when I’m in pain and don’t feel good, I’m still cheerful.”
“It’s harder to be the caretaker,” Lori said. “I watch Eric struggle and I can’t make it better. When I take care of him, I never know whether I’m doing things wrong.”
Many couples struggle with these issues when someone in the relationship is sick. But imagine how daunting that would be if you also had developmental delays.
Lori listens carefully when the doctors explain Eric’s treatment, but it takes longer for her to comprehend. It can be overwhelming, and, “I wish it wasn’t,” she told me. “Because the doctors and nurses get impatient with me.” Fortunately, when Eric needs medical attention, Eric’s sister helps Lori make the best decisions. “I have to be strong,” Lori added, sharing that faith plays a big part in both their lives. “I pray for Eric and for strength and for the doctors and for my husband’s treatment.”
“Lori’s a good patient,” Eric said, sharing some of the differences between the two of them. “She likes to be waited on and I don’t mind doing that. But I like to be left alone. I don’t want to be bothered. Lori worries about things that haven’t even happened yet. But I don’t,” Eric said, telling me that his wife is much more emotional than he is. Then Eric provided an example of himself as a patient. “After one serious surgery, I got out of bed and started walking around the hospital so I could cheer up the other patients and pray with them.”
The nurse found him and asked, “What are you doing?”
“I’m up,” Eric said. “I’m walking. I’m fine.”
Eric looked at his watch, we asked the waiter for to-go boxes, then drove back to their place to continue our conversation. The two-bedroom apartment was tidy, tastefully decorated. Eric headed straight for his rocking recliner, Lori walked down the hall to retrieve wedding photos. I glanced around their compact living room. A framed photo from their recent anniversary sat on the coffee table. Artwork hung on the wall. “I picked that one out,” Eric said, standing to straighten the Thomas Kincaid beach print above the sofa. I thought my cousin was taking credit for
Lori’s talents and laughed.
“No, he really did,” Lori said, coming back into the room and sitting in her recliner. She sifted through a stack of photos before pulling one out and handing it to me.
“You both look so young,” I said, running my fingers over the photo. We all looked young way back then. “Because we were young,” I said, feeling as old as my cousin regularly made me out to be.
Eric stood again, opened the armoire, exposing a large TV. “Judge Judy is on in thirty minutes.”
“Do you two have a daily schedule? Of things you do?” I asked, immediately understanding my cousin had given me a time limit.
“Nope,” Eric said. “We do errands in the morning. But we try to be home by three so we can watch Judge Judy.”
“We also like Big Bang Theory,” Lori added.
“And I love Meryl Streep,” Eric said. “Anything with Meryl.”
“And I love Tom Selleck,” Lori said, sharing her favorite actor. “Some mornings I work on puzzles in the game room,” Lori added. “Or I read a book. I just finished Karen Kingsbury. It takes me forever to read a book, but I love to read.”
Eric shared that he likes to read too, and at home, he uses full-size magnifiers to see the print. He pulled two different units to show me, saying that he used to have a drivers license, but it got harder and harder to see the road signs so he gave up driving. Voluntarily. “Nobody made me. So it was an easier decision.”
Now Lori and Eric walk, take the city buses, use C-VAN or ride with family or friends.
I looked at the clock. Minutes quickly ticked away.
Before leaving, I wanted to know, “How do you two handle the tough times?”
Lori said that she just loves people and sees people the way they are. “I love them even when they don’t want to be loved,” she said.
“Our differences are hard for me sometimes,” Eric said. He flashed me that sweet smile of his. “But I’ll keep her. I don’t want to train no one else. I don’t have the energy.”
“I’d do it all over again,” Lori said, repeating her June promise. “We talk about our problems and pray about them if we can.”
“We listen to each other and support each other,” Eric said. “It’s not just one-sided. I don’t worry about tomorrow, I just worry about today because the Lord guides me one day at a time.”
I asked if I could take a few photos for the blog. Eric glanced at the clock, then settled on the sofa next to his wife. They both flashed smiles and I clicked away.
“Nice that you could come and visit, Linda,” Eric said, showing me to the door. “I love you.”
My first book will be coming out September 26, 2017. If you are interested in learning more about Loving Lindsey: Raising a Daughter with Special Needs, please click here.