Dan died on January 28, 2015. He was 64 years old.
His wife Susan and I had only communicated via email or texting since Dan’s health began to deteriorate in December. She was busy, tired, and too emotional for phone calls.
I had not heard Susan’s voice until a week before his memorial service. At the right time, I called her.
“My sweetheart is gone,” she said.
Susan and Dan were married for 38 years.
I met them in 2008. Susan hired me that year as her assistant in her position as head of a private school. For Susan and me, it was friendship at first sight.
Dan would drive to the school often in a custom van that accommodated his wheelchair. Susan’s face would light up when I would yell, “Dan’s here!”
She would invite me to their home for meals where I saw even more clearly how true love works.
Dan had battled a degenerative muscle disease for most of his life, and soon the disease caused him to become even more dependent on Susan. I was awestruck by her devotion to Dan and, at first, all I could think about was my failed marriage and how the problems we had were nothing compared to what Susan and Dan endured. If only this, if only that, maybe our marriage could have survived, I would say to myself.
As I came to know this amazing couple better and saw their love played out in many ways, I dropped the envy. Instead, I enjoyed Susan and Dan’s marriage. Every chance I had, I used them as an example of true love.
What is true love? It is selfless, full of self-control, and sacrificial. True love is active and safe. It is a life set aside and lived for the other’s good.
True love is this:
Cooking, cleaning, bathing, wiping, wheeling, lifting, driving, standing, waiting. Praying.
It is hugging him when he can’t hug you back.
It is moving away from your beloved hometown so that you can provide for him.
True love is a hard thing to do, but the best people would have it no other way because of the rewards: the sharing in God’s great love for your beloved, and the receipt of God’s smile on your life.
So, after all these long, hard years of practicing this type of love, Susan could still say to me, “My sweetheart is gone.”
I could feel that love — thick and real — through the phone receiver as she spoke. In my mind, I kept hearing the Bible verse “Well done, good and faithful servant!” as she cried.
Susan asked me to sing at Dan’s memorial service, which was held this past weekend. I stood in the balcony of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, a beautiful chapel built in 1886 by the Franciscan fathers of the Santa Barbara Mission. Susan had been the head of its elementary school before she came to the school where I met her.
I sang “On Eagle’s Wings,” a song Susan requested not only for the “heavenward” scripture it contains, but also because Dan loved eagles. For me, the song accurately describes Susan’s dependence on God, and her faith in Jesus Christ, to love her sweetheart the way God wanted him to be loved.
Here is the chorus of the song:
And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His hand.
Susan is a shining star in my life. When I think of her, I think of true love and the God who gifted her with it.
At the end of the service, I walked out of the balcony door and saw this:
It was a beautiful day. Love was in the air. Dan was in heaven.
“Well done, Susan,” I think Jesus would say.