Do you know one of those ideal couples who look like they have it all? When they walk together, their hands are intertwined. Their shoulders touch when they sit next to each other in church. If one is telling a story, it’s usually to brag on the other. Their love doesn’t have the new car smell of honeymooners. Theirs is the beauty, wonder and reliability of Old Faithful. My friends, Joe and Ginny Eades, were all that to me.
Joe was a renowned plastic surgeon and Ginny has her PhD in marriage and family counseling. Their gift of hospitality was legendary and all were welcome to their Fourth of July parties at Innsbrook. If anyone had a need, they’d be the first to show up to help, usually with some of Ginny’s amazing cooking. (Her hot Mexican dip recipe is the best!)
When our firstborn Lily arrived, Fess and I were in the recovery room trying to recover from the news we’d just heard that our daughter had Down syndrome and a major heart defect. Then the door swung open and there was Joe with his radiant smile. He came to encourage and pray for us. It was such a Joe thing to do.
And then Joe got Alzheimer’s disease at age 66, when Ginny was 53. He passed away at age 79.
The other night over dinner, I asked Ginny to tell me their love story. Here it is in her own words:
How did you meet?
We met at an Al-Anon meeting. We both had relatives who were alcoholics. As soon as I saw him, I knew he was The One. He had the kindest eyes and was so attractive. He flirted a little after the meeting, but he thought I was taken or not interested. He was wrong!
How did the first date come about?
I needed a date for a corporate event. I called someone in the group to ask about Joe. She told me he was a plastic surgeon, and I immediately felt self conscious about my less than perfect nose and less than ample chest.
The date went well. I shared how I’d been divorced for five years and had a daughter who was twelve years old. Joe had been divorced for ten years and had four children ranging from 21 to 14. We dated for six months and then I broke up with him when he wasn’t ready to get serious. Six months later, he invited me on a church singles’ retreat and we were married shortly thereafter.
Describe your early years of marriage:
We didn’t agree on how to raise kids, so the first eight years of marriage were tumultuous. Joe had a lot of trust issues with women, since his mother was an alcoholic. But when he committed to marrying me, he prayed that God would help him love me like Christ loved the church. We had a lot to learn but God was faithful to help us.
Through our struggles to come together and blend our families, we learned to apply a lot of Christian principles, like forgiveness, having a gentle and quiet spirit, and focusing more on the log in our eye instead of the speck in the other’s.
In the beginning of our marriage, I was a Christian feminist and didn’t believe that the husband should be the head of the home. After constant arguing and frustration, I came to see the validity of the biblical model for a family. Once I submitted to Joe being the head and trusting God to work through him, it brought peace to our relationship and home. Of course, God’s way was more effective.
Years later when I got in a Hidden heart class, I’d already learned many of the principles through the Holy Spirit teaching me in our marriage. The study is really about getting close to the Lord and our relationship with Him.
Tell me about Joe’s faith in Christ:
Joe wasn’t a Christian in name only. He was a student of the Bible. He was in God’s word all the time. He went to Bible Study Fellowship for 27 years. After he got sick, my daughter would come over and help him do his lesson.
Throughout our marriage when we would be arguing about something, Joe would excuse himself to go on a walk. During his walk, he would talk to God about whatever we were dealing with, and he would always come back and apologize. Always.
Joe said, “When the Alzheimer’s takes over, people will still see the Holy Spirit in me. When I can’t function anymore, people will still see the love of God.” And they did. So many people told me that they’d never seen anyone as sweet and kind as Joe was all the way to the end.
How did you react to his diagnosis:
Initially, my grief manifested itself in frustration because he’d be normal for a while and then the symptoms would come and go. Joe’s energy level was always greater than mine, so trying to limit him was incredibly difficult. One time, without letting me know, he walked a long way to McDonald’s in his pajamas with the dog. He hid the dog in his coat while he ordered.
It was so hard to transition from being his wife to more of a mother figure. The man I’d married was an adventurer, a mountain climber, a captain in the army during the Vietnam War, a skier, a swimmer, an artist, and so much more. After the Alzheimer’s, he’d come out of our room and say, “I’m scared.” In his own home. It was gut wrenching and heart breaking.
For a time, few knew of his diagnosis, but then he’d ask the same question over and over again and everyone knew. I wanted to collapse.
How did you find peace in the midst of such heartbreak?
I remember we were on a trip with my sister. Joe was walking behind us and he kept crossing the street, back and forth erratically. I knew he needed me to watch after him and help him, but I wanted to talk with my sister. I didn’t want to be a caregiver at that moment. I just wanted to have fun on a trip with my sister.
That story showed where I was. I didn’t want to give up my life and my counseling practice. I didn’t want to devote all of my time to Joe. But the time came where he couldn’t do anything for himself. He couldn’t brush his teeth, or go to the bathroom or get out of the bathroom. I believe, at some point, we all wrestle with God like Jacob did. When there were no more “good days,” and Joe became like a child, that was my point. I asked Jesus to help me completely surrender my will and my way for Joe’s sake. When I finally gave up, peace came. I couldn’t think about my needs and what I wanted to do. I gave up my practice. I had to give up the idea that Joe would be there for me and understand me. I had to completely trust that God would take care of me, instead of Joe. And though it was at times unspeakably hard, God did.
One of the most fundamental ways we follow Christ is by dying to self. I devoted my whole life to Joe staying at home with the help of our caregivers. The people who helped me care for Joe became some of my dearest friends.
His care took a toll on our family. I couldn’t be as involved as a grandmother as I’d like to have been. There were many ups and downs. But the sweet memories surpass the difficult ones. I remember how Joe chose to buy a baby doll at Target and said, “This is the best day of my life.”
Tell me about the love letter:
When Joe was 73, he wrote me a love letter for my birthday. Of all the gifts he gave me during our marriage, this may be the one I cherish the most.
Forgive me for asking this inappropriate question, but if you’d known how it would turn out, would you have said yes to Joe’s marriage proposal?
Without a doubt, I’d choose my life with Joe all over again. He was the first person to love me unconditionally. He taught me how to love in return. When I read about love in I Corinthians 13, I rarely get past, “Love is patient. Love is kind.” God gave us His patience and kindness and it saw us through.
After hearing their story, Joe and Ginny are still my ideal – not because they had it all, but because they found it all in living for Christ instead of themselves.