Little did the witch and her entourage of Halloween dramatis personae, Elvis and Pricilla Presley, know that when they stepped into room 432 that they would find the space overflowing with nurses, social workers, housekeeping personnel, and family. The chaplain, who was acting on the impromptu request to officiate, was wedged between the bed, the IV pole, and the window. In his hand — the wedding vows he had written for the couple, requested by the groom only minutes before. The 80-year-old bridegroom, a simple man, never before married, was on his knees before his bride. The wedding dress, which hung off the shoulder — her stained hospital gown. In her hand instead of flowers was the controller for the PCA pump, which permitted her to self-administer pain medication in calibrated doses when she felt she needed them. Food Services had provided an elegantly arranged black Rubbermaid food cart with white linen and plastic Champaign glasses. The wedding cake was a single layer cheesecake with fresh strawberries artfully arranged by hospital dietary staff. Hungry nurses were whispering among themselves, “If there is any of that left, I am grabbing a piece!” A vase of artificial flowers made of orange silk borrowed from the front registration desk stood beside the cake. Wedding rings had been generously donated by the hospital gift shop.
The bride precariously perched in the bedside chair was actively dying from small cell lung cancer, which had metastasized extensively. It was very painful and anyone could see from her restlessness and constant repositioning that she was having difficulty finding any position that would bring comfort. At times, she pulled her gown away from her skin or totally threw it off because even the weight and feel of the fabric caused her pain.
She had been ill for some time and suffered many insults to her body and psyche, including the amputation of her left leg. The cancer now consuming her body had earlier gone undetected and hence in addition to being in pain she was angry. She confided that she believed because of mistakes she had made in her past, she was now saddled with the label “drug seeker” and thus her complaints of pain, subsequent to being stamped as such, had not been taken seriously. That label unfortunately may also have prejudiced later strategies for managing her terrible pain.
The medications and dosages she required introduced the element of sedation. The bride would be relatively lucid one moment and asleep the very next. A tiny grandchild crawling into her lap or a familiar voice of an unexpected but welcome visitor could awaken her, but it would be only a very brief time before her head fell once again to her chest and she returned to the oblivion that brought her peace.
It was nearly impossible for the couple to exchange their vows in the midst of this pharmaceutical fog compounded by the cacophony of surrounding family, including her adult children and her grandchildren. This rampageous occasion was further complicated by the encouragement of staff and friends who were doing their best to rouse her from her chemical sleep. The groom, two and a half decades his beloved’s senior, was troubled by the nerves experienced by every groom, but at the same time gripped by grief knowing that he could lose his bride perhaps moments after the ceremony.
The Chaplain voiced the vows he prepared as a positive declaration:
“In the presence of God and in the name of love, you—Mary Jenkins and Jeffrey Gunderson —come to have your union blessed by God, family, and these witnesses on this day 31 October 2019.
In all that life may bring you both, you pledge your love, now & forever. You commit and share your love and friendship to a partnership in marriage. You both promise to comfort one another, to encourage and support one another in all phases of life. You promise to trust and appreciate one another; to respect and cherish your uniqueness and to express your thoughts and emotions to one another, and to listen, support, and comfort each other to the best of your abilities.
You promise to love one another above all others, and to value your friendship as a precious gift and you promise to stand beside one another in sickness or health, in times of prosperity and decline, in peace and in turmoil.
Do you Mary and Jeffrey so declare?”
Jeffrey was able to find his voice and choke out a whisper, “Yes,” he did so declare. However, Mary was silent, shackled by the bonds of sedation. Her oldest son sitting on the hospital bed leaned in to stir his mother, “Mom! Mom!” She opened her eyes and sleepily asked “What?” “How do you answer the Chaplain? Do you take Jeffrey as your husband?” he said. “Yeeeess,” she feebly mumbled as the room simultaneously filled with a soft cheer. The Champagne glasses filled with bubbly were topped off not by the sparkling wine but rather by the tears of the celebrants.
Two days later with no witch or goblin in sight, no candy wrappers hidden in the bed linen; sadly, the bride left us… but all would agree Mary had certainly left her mark…’till death do us part!