My Brother-in-law died this past winter. He was 58. Much too young to die, but as I spent time with my sister through her searing pain I learned that his spirit lives on.

My sister cared for Joe through wound dressings, black outs and periods when his disease made him cantankerous. Through all of this stress, she taught me a great deal about love and marriage.

Illness is a difficult process. Yet, when Ro spoke of all the worrisome years, it was apparent that she cared for him through it all. When she mentioned, what I would consider, gruesome tasks and nights in emergency rooms, it was clear that she accepted these trials because “that’s what you do when you love someone.”

My sister and brother-in-law are a good deal younger than I, but they could be role models for making retirement marriages joyful. Despite differences of opinion, different needs and sometimes excruciating demands on one partner, they generally kept their sense of humor and patience. Joe knew how to listen. Toward the end, he could not get out much, but he managed to keep in touch with numerous friends—always offering laughs and support to those in need. True there were times when the disease obscured his better nature, but the acceptance of his condition and concern for those who cared for him generally remained present.

There were times when I might have given my brother-in-law a good bop on the head for his behavior, but Ro never did. Though she would clearly tell him when he had stepped over the line, she always understood his frustration, and carefully administered to his needs. In that process she showed the true meaning of love—to accept a person for who he or she is, to care when needed and to speak up for our own needs when that is the best thing for the relationship. In that process Ro and Joe built a strong and loving relationship, and the knowledge of that will support her through her grief as she builds a new life. For me, her example is what is especially important in retirement marriages—to love, to care and to compromise.

RIP Joe.

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