A Golden Anniversary
by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— As the 50th wedding anniversary neared, I readied for the happy event like a rosy-eyed romantic. Some things never change. Even after 50 years of marriage my idea of what life should be like, but isn’t, has never changed.
I planned to celebrate the joyful occasion at a club that would do all the work with as little stress as possible on the happily-married couple. Who needs more stress? Surely a Golden Anniversary should not include any stress.
So invitations were ordered and sent far ahead of the event, flowers ordered, menu selected, beverages readied, and even a lovely floral dress for the aging bride had been purchased. All was ready for the final week in which we would enjoy an enchanted evening whilst dreamily remembering a half century of halcyon marital bliss.
Then, “the unexpected” hit in usual full force. Did someone, somewhere decide our blissful week of Golden Anniversary should not be any different from any other week?
Yes. Our son was rushed to the hospital with spinal meningitis. The highly-contagious illness came on with such ferocity that he collapsed on the emergency room floor upon arrival to the hospital.
Two days later he contracted pneumonia. Soon his lungs collapsed and he had to be rushed to the ICU and hooked up to a ventilator to keep breathing. Hearing the doctor’s report that he only had a 50-50 chance of survival, we rushed to the hospital to see him. He was lying half dead, in a supine crucifixion stance, every extremity attached to a needle or catheter and what looked like a vacuum cleaner tube thrust down his throat so that life-saving oxygen could get to his lungs and excess fluid could be pumped out.
There are no words to describe how a parent feels to see a child in such state. No words. I stood there helplessly in my mask, gown and gloves, hoping my son would not see the tears streaming down my face and praying to God that he would survive.
I thought there was nothing one could do. My pen was worthless, any money I had in the bank could buy me exactly nothing, and even a polite demeanor to the hospital staff or perfect grammar as I spoke to the doctor meant nothing. Nor did any good deeds that I might have done for others in my lifetime nor any good deeds I might do in the future. There was nothing I could do beyond standing helplessly by his bed praying for God to please be with my son as he battled for his life.
We come to these desperate times in life when we are totally helpless. There is only one option left to any of us and that is, according to the existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard . . . to throw ourselves into the arms of God.
I believe in God. But not that such a force personally intervenes to lessen the troubles that we face in life. I also believe His presence is everywhere and within us and that we are never alone. One’s faith is so important because it is the first and last source of support.
By the end of the week Wake improved enough to shed his ventilator and breathe on his own. The next day he was disconnected from other tubes and needles, and the day after our 50th wedding anniversary, he was able to leave ICU and return to a normal hospital room to slowly regain strength.
On the big night, with a sense of Father’s “carry on spirit,” (as English as the afternoon tea) on our wedding day plus 50 years, we dried tears, smoothed out the latest batch of wrinkles in our faces that stem from having children, no matter how old they are, and donned finery and celebrated a Golden Anniversary. The lovely floral dress was canned at the last minute because . . . I looked too fat. Rather, I squeezed into a gown I had worn for my 65th birthday.
The week before the 50-year celebration was like all the others— a struggle . . . from our first honeymoon drive across country from Vermilion, Ohio, to San Diego where Chip was assigned to a ship headed for the South China Sea and the Vietnam War, starting a business to put a husband through law school, giving birth and raising children, earning a living, paying bills, taking care of staff and clients in five law offices, fighting to maintain weight, losing cherished relatives and beloved dogs, becoming a writer who openly addresses universal feelings, experiencing four grandchildren and, perhaps most important, laughing, yes laughing . . . whenever I was granted a breather.
No, we didn’t just reach a Golden Anniversary. We earned it, the old-fashioned way, like our generation does everything—with hard work, dedication and sacrifice. Thanks be to God.