By Richard Webb Sr.
I want to share something my late wife Bonnie once said of me.
During our time together on this Earth, she said many lovely things to me, and my daughter says our life together was a great love story.
She is correct. It was and is. We had been married for 48 years when she died. That was April 4, 2016. We would have celebrated our 49th year of marriage October 20, 2016 (assuming she hadn’t shot me by then). On a wonderful Friday night in 1967, at the Hayes Mill Church of Christ, we began our journey. She was 16; I was 19. For me, it would become 48 years of the deepest, clearest, purest, state of love and friendship; for her, I believe it was much the same.
In February of 2006 she was diagnosed with end-stage COPD. She had to give up a career she enjoyed and go on disability status. She made the best of a bad situation. She took up cooking and cleaning. She also began a series of home improvements to make sure that when we had family and friends visit, we would have a clean, comfortable, and safe place to share with our loved ones.
We had always wanted to vacation in New England and planned that trip for the fall of 2010. Just before we left, her doctor called to say he saw something on her recent X-ray, and that she needed to schedule a CT scan soon. She decided to put off the scan until after the vacation. She was concerned we might have to postpone our long-planned vacation if there was something wrong.
We spent about three weeks in New England. We stayed at some really neat B&Bs. In Maine, we enjoyed a lobster as big as a housecat. When we returned from the vacation, she scheduled the CT scan, which led to a biopsy. She was diagnosed with lung cancer. It had been caught early. But with the COPD complication and the tumor’s location, it was inoperable. The doctor said there was a chance that if she was willing to endure some massive radiation and heavy doses of chemotherapy, there was some probability the tumor’s size could be reduced enough to become operable.
It was a very risky approach, but she didn’t even blink. She started the treatments two days later — five days per week for eight weeks. The tumor did shrink, and the surgery was performed. She did remarkably well, except the drain tube was still active after eight weeks and the surgery had to be repeated. On May 5, 2012, I found her in a coma lying on our kitchen floor. She somehow got through all that only to find out in 2013 that she had breast cancer. Over the next few years, her health became progressively worse. She went into and out of the hospital many times.
She soon had to give up traveling altogether. Her work with the Altar Guild at Messiah Lutheran Church had to be discontinued. Those were perhaps her two favorite activities. She had always enjoyed cooking and was acknowledged as a very good cook, so she began to experiment with recipes. It became her favorite pastime. She would serve at least two new recipes per week and some weeks more often. She would often announce that the dish “just needed a little of” this, that, or the other. After the adjustments (and sometimes without any), she would announce the dish “a keeper.”
During this period, she also gathered all the old family recipes that were handwritten on paper sacks, yellowed index cards, or some other medium common in the 1940s, ’50s, or ’60s. She compiled all these into a book called “Family Keepers,” complete with photos of the relatives associated with the various dishes. She published the book and distributed it to family members the next Christmas. It was a hit.
The last time she was in the hospital, the doctors wanted to keep her in hopes she would have an episode while there; they would be able to do some exploratory surgery and find where all the blood was coming from. She was feeling better. Even though she couldn’t go home, she wanted to be able to walk around the hospital floor several times a day. Ever conscious of her appearance, she asked me to stop and acquire some pajamas for her. I agreed to pick them up on my way in the next morning.
I remember dreading this chore because I could hardly ever pick out clothes that pleased her in the way they were made, the color, or the way they looked on her. I never attributed much importance to these things, because to she looked good in anything and best in nothing. Upon arriving at the store, I remembered I had Facetime on my iPhone, so I called her. I walked walk around the racks with the iPhone focused on the clothes. She would say, “Hold up the blue one,” or “Let me see that peach-colored one,” as I made my way through the racks. I would hang them up high where she could get a really good look at the front and then turn them so she could look at the back and sides. She asked to see two of them side by side. In time, she made her selections, I paid for them, and headed to the hospital.
As I was walking along the hall toward her hospital room, packages in hand, she had just finished a walk around the floor. Standing just outside her hospital-room door, she and one of her nurses were engaged in a friendly chat. The nurse noticed the packages and commented on what a nice gesture it was for me to shop for her.
Bonnie looked at me with one of her warmest smiles and, with a distinct measure of pride in her voice, said, “Yes. He’s a keeper.” It was the best compliment I had ever received. She was saying that, like one of her recipes, she would go to the joy and trouble of doing her life all over again with me.
A few days later, she died in my arms at our kitchen sink. Bonnie was a keeper. If you have a keeper, tell them so.
It’s a wonderful thing to hear.