Reading the love story of Tony and Shirley was captivating. I loved every bit of it– including the account of the “closing and opening drapes” to accommodate–or rather hide–the nightly kiss. All of us smiled as we read that. Or the embarrassing moment of being in the back seat of the car at McDonald’s and the ensuing conflict that required the intervention of Tony’s mom to save the day. We all could feel Shirley’s frustration and Tony’s desperation coming right off the pages of the book.
Yet, as I read it, there was an underlying sense of – what word should I use here? – dread. I knew that the final section of the book would include Shirley’s departure from this earth. Seeing the purity and depth of their love, I did not want to arrive at a chapter in which Shirley would be leaving Tony behind on this earth – alone.
There was another reason I dreaded that chapter. I, too, went through the pain of saying goodbye to the wife of my youth, after she had an intense, painful and unsuccessful six-year battle with cancer. As I read Tony and Shirley’s account, I was reliving the joys and then the pain of Carol’s and my story. That made reading the book very difficult.
And I remember exactly how I felt as I talked to Shirley in January of 2019 in Miami, Florida at a meeting. It was – to my recollection the first time I had met her. It would also be my last. Having walked through the cancer journey with my spouse, I focused on her, talking to her, hearing her story. As I finished that 10-minute or so conversation, the thought went through my head, “What is ahead for this couple?” I was concerned. Even in that brief meeting, I saw the qualities that Tony wrote about.
Truth be told, almost everyone who reads this book has suffered great loss, losses from which we never fully recover. It is this point that causes me to encourage everyone to read this. Tony and Shirley’s love was exceptional. That alone makes the book worth it. But the greater the love, the greater the loss. But after the loss, we have to find ways to somehow move forward.
John Nielson, a Nazarene pastor, once wrote, “While it is certainly true that we do not sorrow as those who have no hope, then it must also be true that we do not hope as those who have no sorrow.” We all recognize the first portion of the above quote as coming from the writing of the Apostle Paul (1 Thess. 4:13). As Christ-followers, we all certainly believe that “we do not sorrow as those who have no hope.” But it is in the last part of the quote, “we do not hope as those who have no sorrow,” that we uncover the rawness, the excruciating pain inflicted by the loss of a loved one.
What will this book do for you? For starters, it is the model that high school and college students need to read to understand the joy of pure, Christ-honoring courtship. Secondly, it can become a model for countless married couples who could learn so much from the pristine love of Tony and Shirley. Thirdly, it – and this one is harder – can begin to prepare one for the eventuality of the death of your loved one. Fourthly, it guides one in how to attempt to navigate life when that loss occurs.
My advice? Buy one and read it. Then buy multiple copies and give them to those you love.