By Norris Burkes Jan 7, 2024

In the fall of 1979, Becky said “yes” to marrying me but issued two quick conditions.  

  1. She would not allow her dad to give her away. “I’m not any man’s property” she stated. (Instead, our parents stood together to declare their support for our marriage.)
  2. She would not promise to “obey” me. Are you seeing a pattern here?

In early January of 1980, we managed to finally get married.

I was ordained only a few years later and have since officiated dozens of weddings that included a pageantry of limos, gowns and tuxedos. During these ceremonies, I stood before each couple as they proclaimed poetic promises accompanied by an elegant love song.

It’s easy to see the exchange of vows as the most beautiful part of the ceremony, but as a chaplain who’s been doing this marrying-burying thing for more than 40 years, I can testify that nothing matches the beauty of witnessing the fulfillment of those vows by couples who meant what they said when they promised, “For better or for worse…till death do us part.”

To this day, I’ve never heard a love song as beautiful as the serenade given by a 45-year-old cancer patient while I was serving as a chaplain intern at UC Davis Medical Center (1991-92).

The solo drew me toward the room where several staff members had gathered outside the door. Inside, lay a jaundiced patient with a liver that was clearly failing. All of his organs were failing. Doctors were measuring his life in days, if not hours.

In his bed with him was his wife, Anne of 22 years, all 98 pounds of her. She nuzzled alongside him, stroking his face, as he strummed a John Denver medley.

After about 10 minutes, he switched chords and nodded toward his eavesdroppers as if to ready us for his finale.

His wife took her cue by sitting up in bed with crossed legs, brushing her hair behind her ears and wiping her tears. Then she stared deeply into his dark eyes as if going toward a preplanned rendezvous with his soul. She clearly knew what was coming. For it was her song, “Annie’s Song.”

“Come let me love you, let me give my life to you,” he began with a cracking voice. He stopped for an unwritten rest beat, forced a smile and pushed farther into what seemed a prayer set to music.

Let me drown in your laughter / Let me die in your arms
Let me lay down beside you / Let me always be with you
Come let me love you / Come love me again

While a few of the staff members held their professional composure through most of the song, it’s a safe bet that our stoicism didn’t survive the entreating lyrics, “Let me die in your arms.”

The physical and spiritual intertwining I witnessed in this couple sharing a hospital bed will always recall for me the scripture from Genesis that says, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh….”

It’s a wonderful moment when couples pledge their togetherness with “until death do us part,” but it was a sacred moment to behold this couple turn their “I do” vows into a goal-line declaration of “We did.”

Brother, that’s love. Sister, that’s pageantry!

Oh, I almost forgot. Forty-four years ago, Becky added one final edit to our ceremony.

“We will not be pronounced, “man and wife.’” 


“Why should the man be allowed to remain a “man,” but the woman must transform into “the wife.”

“The pastor will pronounce us “husband and wife.”

“Sure thing,” I said. “No problem.” Of course, I’d have said anything to marry this girl.

Happy anniversary, sweetheart.


Parts of today’s column were excerpted from my book, “Thriving Beyond Surviving.” Copies can be ordered on my website at, or by sending $20 to 10566 Combie Road, Suite 6643, Auburn, CA 95602.