I met Leah at a hospital while I was working there as an intern.
She was a regular patient of one of the doctors there, as she was being treated for young-onset.
For me, it was love at first sight.
When I first saw her, she had this breathtaking beauty that I just couldn’t resist.
She was a soft-spoken young lady with a beautiful face, and each time I saw her at the hospital, I kept wanting to get to know her more.
One day, I finally mustered up the courage to ask her out on a date.
I slowly approached her while she waited on one of the hospital benches, and started talking about my favorite diner across the street.
“Hi,” I waved shyly. “I’m Jack. I’m sorry to be bothering you like this, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t attracted to you,” I told her.
As I said this, I saw Leah flash the most beautiful smile I had ever seen, with her cheeks showing two dimples that added to her character. “Me?” she giggled. “Why would you be interested in me? I’m just a woman with young-onset Park’ inson’s. It’d be such a hassle to date me,” she started to say.
“Can I at least try?” I asked her honestly. I think she saw how genuinely I asked her that question, and she decided to give it a try.
That day, we went out on a date in the diner across the street. I remember it so vividly – I ordered my favorite cheeseburger meal and a milkshake, and she ordered chicken tenders and a rootbeer float. We spent the entire afternoon talking, exchanging stories, and laughing with one another. It was the best date I had ever gone on.
Leah was my best friend and my only one. Before I met her, I couldn’t care less about the hearts I’d broken, and admittedly, I wouldn’t mind dating more than one girl at once. But when Leah came, I changed. I didn’t see it coming, but the thought of hurting Leah was something I just couldn’t take. I wanted to be the one to take her troubles away, not cause them.
When we started dating, Leah didn’t want to let me in. “Things are going to get worse for me,” she would warn me. “I really don’t want to be a burden to you.”
I would notice how Park’ inson’s affected her daily life. Her hands would tremble every time she used them, and sometimes it got so uncontrollable that the pot she was cooking with almost fell to the floor. “I got it, sweetheart,” I told her at that moment. “I’m here. You don’t have to worry about things like that anymore.”
Little by little, Leah allowed me to love her and to do things for her. While other people might find that caring for a person with Park’ inson’s was a hassle, to me, it was a privilege. I loved Leah with all my heart, and I wanted to do anything and everything for her.
So, we got engaged. Leah and I couldn’t be happier, and we excitedly told all our parents and friends about it. When I spoke to my friends, they were all surprised.
“Are you sure about this, brother?” one of my college friends asked. “Your life’s going to be a disaster,” another one of them warned.
“How can you say that? This is Leah – my girlfriend! When you insult her, you insult me,” I said, hurt that they were trying to talk me out of my own wedding.
“We’re just telling the truth, man. Your life is going to be so difficult having to care for someone with Park’ inson’s disease,” they said again.
The truth was, my life wasn’t going to transform just because I had to care for Leah. My life would be a disaster without her!
“Piece of advice? It’s better for you to separate now. Leave. Things will only get worse from here. Take it from a man with a 71-year-old wife who has stage IV Park’ inson’s,” he said.
One day, a couple of months before our wedding, I decided to attend a conference for people with Park’ inson’s with Leah. “What for?” she asked me.
“I want to know how I can take care of you better,” I told her. “And it might be nice for you to find a support system,” I suggested.
When we were in the hall, an elderly man who looked about 70 years old approached me. “How old are you, son?” he asked.
“I’m 32 years old, sir” I replied. “My fiancée has early onset-Park’ inson’s. We’re attending this conference so I know how to better care for her. I know it won’t always be this easy,” I added.
“Early onset?” the man said, surprised. “So you’re walking into fire knowingly?” he asked me.
I was confused by the way he answered because it was as if he was surprised that someone could love a person with early onset knowingly. Why not? I thought to myself.
“I don’t think my wife having Park’ inson’s is going to stop me from loving her wholeheartedly,” I told the man, who seemed to have been mocking my choice to marry Leah. “I love her, and my love for her is more than her condition.”
“You say that now, son,” he shook his head, with me hearing a faint laugh leaving his lips. “Piece of advice? It’s better for you to separate now. Leave. Things will only get worse from here. Take it from a man with a 71-year-old wife who has stage IV Park’ inson’s,” he said, tapping me on the shoulder before walking away.
Before I could even grasp what he was saying, or search for Leah, I found her standing right behind me. She had heard everything that the man had told me and was on the verge of tears.
“Don’t listen to him, honey,” I advised. “He doesn’t know us.”
For the rest of the conference, Leah remained silent. She barely spoke and kept to herself most of the time. It was when we got back to the hotel room that Leah began to bawl.
She cried all night, asking me to leave her. “Please,” she begged. “Please just leave me now. You heard what the man said… your life is just going to worsen because of me,” she sobbed.
“Sweetheart, I will never leave you,” I said, hugging her tight.
“I want you to be happy,” Leah told me. “Please, call off the wedding. Let’s not do this anymore,” she cried.
“I will only be happy with you,” I assured her. “Please, believe me. I’m not calling off anything. I want to be with you!”
Leah continued to cry, but I didn’t stop embracing her until she calmed down. While I was doing that, I was determined to prove to her just how much I meant what I said.
Before going to sleep that night, I called up my parents and asked them to reschedule all our wedding bookings for the next day. The following morning, I had Leah’s wedding dress delivered to the hotel and asked her to get dressed.
Now, we are celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary together in a beautiful beach-front property in Miami with our children and grandchildren.
“What for?” she asked me, surprised that her wedding gown was in the room.
“I meant what I said. I want to spend the rest of my life with you… if you’d have me,” I told her.
Leah flashed a genuine smile at me as she hugged her wedding gown to her chest, and the rest was history. We got married that very same day surrounded by just our families. I no longer wanted to invite my friends, as I knew I didn’t need their negativity knowing that they were not genuinely happy about my marriage to Leah.
No matter what everybody else said, I was determined to spend the rest of my life with Leah and start a family with her. I knew what I was getting into and the complications we would face in the future, but it all didn’t matter to me.
Now, we are celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary together on a beautiful beach-front property in Miami with our children and grandchildren. We rented a beach house to spend the special weekend with the rest of our family, where Leah and I could enjoy the fresh ocean breeze while making quality memories.
I don’t regret my choice of marrying the love of my life. To this day, I look back at all the challenges and complications with nothing but gratefulness knowing we did our best to go through them together.
We went through it all, and I proved all our doubters wrong. We didn’t separate, nor did we ever fight about her having Park’ inson’s. Instead, we worked hard to overcome the challenges together, and it made us a much stronger couple.
I can’t imagine having gone through most of my life with anybody else but my darling Leah. If it wasn’t her, it wasn’t going to be anyone. She is the love of my life and will be the only love of my life for as long as I live.
Together, we had four children – we had a son and a daughter before adopting twins, who up until this day all help me in taking care of their mom. They adore Leah just as much as I do, and they try to spend as much time as they can with us.
We are a close family. While Leah can no longer walk and is bound by her wheelchair, we still try to go on as many family trips as we can. We take her to places where she can enjoy fresh air, and watch our fourteen grandchildren running around, playing with one another.
Looking back at the life we lived, there’s nothing I regret. I love my life with Leah and the family we built, and I look forward to spending the rest of my days with them, celebrating every holiday as a family, and still going on nature trips.
I’ll be the first to admit that there are still days when her Park’ inson’s gets the best of us. But those are challenges that we’re willing to face head-on as a family.
Those friends that talked me out of marrying Leah? I never saw them or heard from them again. I was wise not to listen to people who didn’t plan on being in my life
Whenever she feels low about her diagnosis, I sit in a wheelchair the entire day to show my solidarity. “We’re in this together, sweetheart,” I’d assure her. “You have me. Don’t you ever doubt it, okay?”
As soon as I’d sit in my wheelchair and assure her of my love for her, I’d see a smile creep up Leah’s face – the same smile that I fell in love with more than forty years ago.
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