Updated: Aug 26
When Noel first set foot inside a church, he wasn’t after a deepened prayer life, a sense of community, or even the pursuit of peace.
“It was a small town,” he recalls. “And that was about the only place to go to meet women.”
I smile at his honest admission, then cast a glance at his wife Marilyn. She’s nodded off in peaceful slumber, lost somewhere in the fog of dementia that has been steadily progressing over the last five years.
“It took me a while,” Noel continues. “I’m not a guy that just rushes into things.”
At that time, she was in school pursuing a career in nursing, and they would meet every so often for dinners or parties. Noel’s mother would nudge him, asking when he was going to marry her, but he waited until he was certain the time was right to propose. When he did, he chose the night of Marilyn’s graduation.
“It has to be a feeling inside,” he reflects. “It’s definitely something that comes to you and says, ‘This is what I want. This is who I’d like to spend my life with.’”
The early years of marriage presented unique challenges, but they managed to see things out. Noel is the first to admit that things didn’t always go smoothly, or according to plan. But, he insists, “We’ve had a good life.”
Life for Noel and Marilyn now, however, bears little resemblance to their earlier years of marriage. Beginning with the onset of Parkinson’s disease in 2000, then dementia in 2014, and now Alzheimer’s as of last year, Marilyn’s health has become Noel’s primary concern.
“It’s very very hard,” he nods, leaning forward as if weighed down by the gravity of the situation. “It’s not going to get any better. In fact, I expect it to get worse.”
Those words are spoken with the kind of practiced sterility of a man resigned to fate. But I catch a glimpse of the emotions roiling just beneath the surface when he mentions a favourite memory: taking Marilyn to Barbados.
“That was special for her,” he smiles. “I remember the pilot said, ‘We’re landing’ and…”
But Noel can’t go on. He stops mid-speech and buries his face in his hands, overcome. A moment of silence passes before Noel collects himself.
“My wife…” he muses, looking at Marilyn with affectionate eyes. “She’s strong.”
I would say the same about Noel. Though Marilyn’s illness has created unique obstacles and challenges for him, he’s taken on that responsibility willingly and without reserve.
“It’s not a big thing for me,” he insists. “She’s my wife, so as far as getting her dressed, taking her to the washroom, or whatever she needs to do, I do it. And I don’t have any qualms about it. She’s very special to me, and I don’t mind doing anything for her.”
“You know,” Noel adds, “The older I’m getting, the more I appreciate this lady. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know where I would be.”
By the time our visit is nearing its end, Marilyn awakes from her slumber. It’s a good day and she’s alert, so she joins in the conversation with a radiant smile and two simple words.
Looking forward, Noel admits that he isn’t sure of what’s going to happen next. But whatever the future may hold, he says, “I make sure she feels like she belongs here. We belong together.”
I, for one, could not agree more.