Listening to my heart

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut

At age 23, I had it all figured out.

I knew what I wanted out of life. I knew what my life would look like for the next however-many years. I knew which roads to take and what was going to make me happy.

And I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Neville Howell, the man I was marrying on that beautiful September day in 1977.

That’s the only part I got right.

A 40-year anniversary is quite a milestone. We are not unaware of how blessed we are to have worked our way through more than 14,600 days together. Most have been good; some have been great; some have been incredible; and some have been difficult.

On our wedding day

In one of my previous jobs as a newspaper features writer, I would occasionally interview golden anniversary couples, back when newspapers did that kind of thing. The clichéd question at some point in the interview was always, “How did you manage to stay married for 50 years?”

There were lots of answers. Some were sweet: “We just reminded ourselves every day that we loved each other.”

Some were funny: “We have separate bathrooms.”

My favorite husband and wife story, however, was shared by a woman Neville and I met while visiting his mother at a local memory-care home. We saw the woman, who looked to be in her mid-70s, every time we went. She sat with a man, also about her age, talking with him and often holding his hand. She was always there when we got there and still there when we left.

One day, when the man was back in his room, the wife and I began talking. She explained that he was her husband of almost 50 years. For the past year, he had been living in the memory care home, and, most of the time, she said, he had no idea who she was.

“Yet you come every day?” I asked her.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “Of course. I stay with him most of the day, just talking and being with him.”

“You must love him very much,” I said.

“Oh, I do,” she answered. “And I know he loves me, too, even though he may not know it. The other day, as we were talking, he asked me for about the 20th time who I was.

“I told him, ‘I’m your wife.’ He said, ‘You are? I married you? I don’t remember you, but I am so glad I did that because you are so sweet and so pretty.’

“We have moments like that every now and then,” she finished, tears welling up in her eyes. “His mind may not know who I am, but his heart does.”

So, while Neville and I may not be able to put a finger on exactly how we got through 14,000-plus days without one of us packing bags and heading for the door, our hearts know. They are full of love for each other and for our families, and I am grateful that, even at age 23, I knew to always listen to my heart.

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