This past week, I made my way around the southwest coast of Ireland in search of adventure by day and a good bed and breakfast at night. The breakfasts were great, but a good bed with comfortable bedding was hard to find.
Nevertheless, the most important thing to me and my bride of 30 years was that we find something we could both sleep on. At times, we found our beds not much bigger or any more comfortable than a hospital bed. Other times, we determinedly pushed two single beds together.
Our determination to share a bed reminded me of a time that a nurse sent me into a room to visit with a couple who’d shared a cramped bed their entire marriage. Sadly, the husband had just passed away.
The room was filled with family pictures and mementos that intentionally communicated to the staff that this man was not to be identified by a room number or diagnosis. He had a name, a life and a family that loved him.
The bed swallowed the frame of this slight man enough to allow his wife to perch on the edge in the top corner of the mattress. She leaned into his stiff, sagging shoulder and held his hand while caressing his arm. His eyes were closed and his mouth open.
As I sat and talked with the family, the wife told me she had shared a bed with this man for 58 years. During all of that time, the couple had only a double bed — not a queen or king — just a double bed. Now she was wondering how cold the night would get without him.
“I just can’t understand it,” she said. “So many of our friends buy these big beds. They say they need the room. The beds are so big, you lose each other.”
She told me there was always enough room in their bed, because from the moment they slid in, both had their emotional compass set for a lifelong commitment. In the center of the bed, they found each other’s hand and, so entwined, peaceful sleep came easily.
Now, in front of us that afternoon, a permanent peace also had come easily. He was resting, and, at her advanced age, she was likely to join him soon in a place where their souls would permanently entwine.
As I looked at this couple, it occurred to me that I often am witness to the pageantry of many formal and elegant weddings, but the beauty I witnessed in this room was rare. This was the final fulfillment of vows taken by a couple that meant what they said, when they promised “for better or for worse, ’til death do us part.”
The marriage that began with this vow had now seen fulfillment in this bed. Through the years, I have heard a lot of reasons for breaking those vows. Perhaps Jesus hit the nail on the head when he explained that Moses had been forced to approve the breaking of marital vows because of “hardness of hearts.” Somehow, I think this couple discovered hard hearts are softened in smaller beds.
By the time you read this, we should be back at home in our own bed, tucked warmly under the sheets recovering from eight hours of jet lag. Yet no matter how many times we leave our old bed, I will fondly remember this couple and pledge that our bed will continue to be our nightly meeting place for years to come.
Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. Write firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thechaplain.net. You also can follow him on Twitter, username is “chaplain,” or on Facebook at facebook.com/norrisburkes.