“For Better, For Worse, In Sickness and In Health”

I never heard my dad complain
Of duties to his long-disabled wife.
When married as a youthful swain
He pledged that he would honour her for life.
True to his ‘worse or better’ vow
He daily cared for her ‘in sickness’ now.

For quarter of a century
Rheumatoid arthritis ne’er eased up,
Inflicting pain relentlessly
Till every joint had swollen and seized up.
Sitting had increased her weight;
He turned her over several times a night.

He stepped indoors one spring mid-morning,
Still in their golden wedding’s afterglow,
To see her reeling without warning
From a cardiac infarction’s knock-out blow –
Her wordless, gargling death rattle
Announcing she had lost life’s final battle.

The morrow after she had gone,
In grief-relief he spoke his feelings out:
‘No strength remained to carry on;
God knew I’d reached my limit, without doubt.’
Yet still no light dawned on my brain
To say: You never heard this man complain.

When further thirty years had flown,
While sick three nights-and-days like Jonah’s whale
My wife’s attending care I’d known;
I saw in fast-replay of memory’s tale
Those many years of stress and strain
In which I’d never heard my dad complain.

When next my wife came by my bed
I told her what had just flashed through my mind.
My marriage vows afresh I said
And promised that if ever she should find
Such need for succour to sustain
I would support, and try not to complain.
Hugh Thompson (28 November l998)

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