Chapter 7

The ceremony was low key. Father Fitzgerald performed the service in the Sacred Heart Chapel of St. Lucy's Catholic Church in Greenville. Mary was Ruth's Maid of Honor and Sherman's Dad was the best man. A catered reception was held in the under-croft of St. Patrick's Church and the couple took a two night honeymoon to Summer Beach, where they finally got biblical, and physical.

"I'm glad we waited until we were husband and wife," Ruth said as they lay in the bed of their rented motel cottage listening to the sounds of the crashing waves beyond the window.

"And you thought I was going to become a priest," Sherman teased.

"I'm glad you didn't," Ruth giggled. And then she panicked. "Oh, Gosh, was that sacrilegious of me to say?"

Sherman laughed.

"I always knew what I wanted," Ruth said with a contented sigh. "Maggie was right about what she said."

"About us being freaks?"

"We were both kind of geeky."

"I was intimidated by John Paul by the time we hit middle school," Sherman admitted.

"Well, he grew about six inches and put on 40 pounds overnight," Ruth remarked. "You're still the same height and weight, basically."

"Is that what happened with you and Maggie?" Sherman wondered. "You became intimidated?"

"I think I got a little offended," Ruth admitted. "She was saying bad stuff about our Faith by the time we hit middle school. If people thought you were a future priest, she pegged me for a future Nun."

"She's always been rather outspoken and opinionated," Sherman admitted.

"I was basically shy," Ruth revealed.

"I liked that about you," Sherman smiled.

"I didn't like being ridiculed about my Faith though," she stated.

"That's what's got you through all of this," Sherman reminded her.

"Yes," she agreed with satisfaction.

They rented a small apartment in downtown Hillsboro not far from the Catholic Ministries Office. Sherman substitute taught when he wasn't working at the Literacy Project. He accompanied Ruth to her doctor appointments when he could.

Most days, it was easy to forget that Ruth was sick but then there would be days when her legs cramped up or headaches kept her in bed or she couldn't do her paperwork at work because of blurred vision and she'd become flustered and upset.

"I bet you're mad for marrying someone who's terminal," She'd grumble when she'd get down.

But for the most part Ruth remained energetic, positive and future thinking. She talked about John Paul's wedding scheduled a year down the road and Mary's med school graduation and Abby and Betty's high school graduations as if she'd be around for all of it.

"Nobody should put their life on hold or rearrange their lives for me," she told Sherman one night as they lay in bed. "I don't want to be a distraction or interference or problem."

"You'll never be that," Sherman assured her.

Most people were still unaware of the seriousness of Ruth's condition. She had to tell her supervisor because of all the time she missed but most of their friends and even Sherman's siblings were unaware that Ruth was facing a limited future.

"I don't want them pitying me," Ruth said.

"You're their sister now," Sherman reminded her.

"I've been happier these past few months than I've ever been," Ruth let her husband know at the breakfast table one morning.

"We live in a dump," Sherman frowned. "We're broke."

"We're married," she grinned.

"I love you," Sherman beamed.

"I love you too."

Despite her health situation, there was no sense of urgency in their marriage. They woke up in the morning grateful and content and they made the best of that day no matter how it unfolded. Even on her worst days, Ruth refused to be miserable and sad.

"It's important to appreciate the little moments," Ruth said. "I spent an hour the other day watching Abby and Betty playing checkers on a rainy day."

"Everything feels so right," Sherman smiled.

One night, they were lying in bed cuddling as they often did.

"Are you scared?" Sherman asked her in the dark.

"Not about dying," Ruth revealed honestly and gently. "I believe in God. I know Jesus will take care of me. I go to confession every week and Mass more often when I can. Father already anointed me. But I am afraid for you."

"Why?" He asked with surprise.

"I don't want to leave you," she sighed.

"Don't worry about me," Sherman pleaded.

"I can't help it," she said heavily. "It's my only regret."

He kissed her and held her tight.

"Make love to me," Ruth whispered.

And he did.

One unspoken ritual between them almost from the start was that they never said 'goodbye' to each other. It was always 'See You Later' or 'Be Back Soon' - almost as if they dared to say goodbye something might happen. It was superstitious but comforting.

"Do you have any regrets?" Ruth asked Sherman on another night as they lay in bed in the late dark.

"I would have done everything the same," he said. "Except I would have written to you every day from the moment I walked out of your house after your naked Stuffed Animal Presentation."

She giggled. "I still can't believe I did that."

"Maybe I wouldn't have gone to Spain after Ireland," he said. "I should have come home, even if you were in Arizona."

"Promise me you won't be traumatized," Ruth asked of him.

"I can't promise anything," Sherman admitted. "Except that I will always be grateful for you. And to you"

She squeezed him knowingly.

"Isn't it amazing how one person can completely change your life?" Sherman asked. "I always thought love meant you cared about the other person but you've shown me that it also allows you to be true to yourself."

"I hope you'll remember that love doesn't die," Ruth said. "It lives on and inspires so please keep spreading your love to as many others as you can."

"This is the hard part," Sherman sighed.

"Thinking about it?"

"I knew it wouldn't easy and that's why I cherish the hope that we still have many tomorrows left."

"Would you make love to me?" Ruth requested. "We still have the romance. I still experience the euphoria as if it's the first time."

The blurred vision got worst. Ruth had trouble with her balance from time to time. She fell asleep in mid-sentence a few times. She had increasing difficulty with short term memory and putting sentences together, forgetting words or misusing them.

Ruth's mom convinced her and Sherman to give up their apartment and move into the Davis' house for additional care and support. Ruth finally gave up her job when she realized she couldn't perform it effectively any longer.

Sherman and Ruth knew that hope was fading and sunset was approaching. Her left hand shook frequently. She became short of breath easily. Mrs. Davis moved their bedroom to the first floor den to save Ruth the stair climbs.

"You're the most beautiful thing that ever happened to me," Sherman told her one night as he held her through a migraine. "We sure do have a wonderful love story."

"One that is going to scar you," Ruth warned.

"You're only twenty-four," Sherman complained. "It's not fair."

"We both knew it wasn't going to be a happy ending," Ruth reminded him.

Ruth began falling a lot so she stayed in bed more frequently as her mobility continued to decrease. Mary took leave from Med School and John Paul was home nearly every weekend from New Jersey.

Ruth's speech began to fail and her memory lapses grew more pronounced. She had trouble recognizing people she hadn't seen in a while or known very long.

Sherman's siblings were now fully aware that Ruth was dying and they spent plenty of time visiting with Ruth, reading to her and telling stories about Sherman's childhood.

Her headaches became increasingly painful and her medication strengths were increased. Her vision was all but gone and her ability to communicate quickly faded.

Hospice was in the house most of the time and the Ladies Prayer Group from church stopped by every day. Sherman stopped substituting and he left his job at the literacy project to be with his wife full time.

In the last few days, she slept most of the time. She stopped eating although she managed a smile when Sherman bought a bag of Baby Ruth candy bars into the room one afternoon.

Ruth lapsed into unconsciousness and on the morning she died she opened her eyes and looked at Sherman who was sitting in a chair at the side of the bed and she smiled.

Sherman smiled bravely and nodded his head. "Say hi to Jesus for me."

She closed her eyes and four hours later she was gone.