“This much I know is true: that God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you”.
I sang at their wedding, and that says a lot.
My cousin Sandy, and her husband-to-be Ralph asked me. I usually hate doing that kind of thing, but after all they went through, it seemed like the least I could do.
My cousin Sandy was the type of person who often got overlooked. She was the caregiver, the caretaker, the meal maker, the visitor, and in a family of drama queens and overachievers she often felt inadequate. She’s easily 15 years older than me, and all my life she was just Sandy, with her hearty laugh and quick smile. It wasn’t until she was almost 50 that she met Ralph who turned out to be the love of her life. They dated quietly, almost secretly for a couple of years, because this was Sandy after all. Who pays attention to Sandy? When we finally all met Ralph and learned that they were engaged to be married, it was a wonderful moment. Probably one of the last really, truly wonderful moments for the two of them. That was seven years ago. Shortly after their engagement, Ralph started losing weight and feeling weak. He went for a number of tests and eventually discovered cancer. He was able to attend his own wedding social, but he was on a day pass from the hospital, his portable chemotherapy kit hung around him like the world’s worst fanny-pack. A couple of months later, there were questions as to whether he’d even be able to last through the ceremony. They decided that the wedding party would sit instead.
When they asked me to sing “God Bless the Broken Road” at their service, I was honoured and terrified. I hate doing that sort of thing, but it turned out Sandy’s sister would also sing it with me as a duet and I felt a little better about that. And even though I screwed up the harmony on the chorus a bit, Sandy and Ralph for so grateful I could even forgive myself a little bit and I was secretly really proud they asked me.
Just before the wedding, I was in Clear Lake, poking around one of those overpriced souvenir shops, and I found this picture frame with the caption, “LOVE CONQUERS ALL” and I bought it on the spot. I knew I wanted to give this to Sandy and Ralph as their wedding present. I don’t normally go in for that sentimental stuff, but somehow, after all that the two had been through so far I thought it was kind of appropriate. Little did I know then that it was all just beginning.
The next six years was made up of Sandy taking care of Ralph, through all the surgeries, hospital visits, setbacks, disappointments, faint hopes, more setbacks. Anyone that’s been touched by cancer knows the routine.
Despite the health challenges, Sandy and Ralph were always wonderful hosts on their lovely property outside the city. I remember spending memorable Christmas Days out there, the whole family together for Christmas supper, and then building a fire outside and standing around, singing Christmas carols, and feeling like I want every Christmas to be this way, their long driveway lined with ice lanterns to mark the way, set out there by Ralph, even if it meant having to lie down for a couple hours after the ordeal to rest.
And then last year Sandy’s Dad, my Uncle Jack, took a turn for the worse himself and was hospitalized for a year before passing away last August. Sandy now had two hospitals to visit on a daily basis, not to mention driving in from her home a half hour outside the city every day.
On the day of my uncle’s funeral, Sandy had a bad stomach ache. I think we all did and didn’t think much of it, but it wasn’t just nerves, reader. No. In the movies, a cough is never just a cough, and as life would have it, or I guess in this case as death would have it, the stomach ache turned out to be ovarian cancer. We didn’t know that then. After my uncle’s funeral, Sandy went with Ralph back to his hospital (at least my cousin only had ONE hospital to visit now, ha ha) and then came by for a visit at my aunt’s where we gathered and just told the old family stories over and over again, the ones that always made us laugh, and Sandy was right in there with some good ones of her own.
The cancer diagnosis came a month later, and as luck or fate would have it, she and Ralph were on the same floor in the same hospital. We soon learned that there was going to be a social fundraiser for the two of them put on by their friends. When we got there, we realized that it was actually put on by all the nurses and doctors from the cancer ward who had come to know and love Sandy and Ralph over the last few years. Instead of having a staff Christmas party, the nurses and doctors threw this social to raise money for my cousin and her husband and it was amazing and poignant and crazy and fun and hopeful. My other cousin, who is a nurse, said that in 25 years of nursing she’s never heard of an entire ward do something like this for a patient. It just goes to show how much of Sandy and Ralph’s kindness must have rubbed off on everyone.
If this were a Hallmark made for TV movie, the generosity of the nurses and the doctors would mean Sandy would get to travel for special treatment and make a full recovery and so would Ralph and they would spend their remaining years together and we would have many more wonderful family Christmases out at their house.
But life isn’t a Hallmark movie, is it? Sandy slowly but surely got sicker and sicker over the winter, spending the last couple of weeks bedridden. Ralph was by her side, in his own wheelchair, every day.
She died tonight.
A couple of nights ago, my Mom visited the hospital and Sandy said, “Ralph and I never really got a break, did we?”
No you didn’t Sandy. Not even close.