The True Measure of Love

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Submitted by Kay Helbling

With gratitude to Joanne Balkovic, who was the inspiration for this article. In this month of love, her story can inspire all women to be strong in mind, body, and spirit, so that we can all measure up to the true tests of love.

You’re walking down the aisle and all you see is the young, fresh, vibrant face of your soon-to-be husband. What a grand life you have ahead—many plans and much joy. You recite the words almost automatically. Not having a doubt in your mind. Not considering the magnitude of the promise…”for better or for worse, for richer or poorer…in sickness and in health”.

On her wedding day, Joanne could picture all the beautiful days that lay ahead. Waiting for her down that aisle was a strapping, handsome, military man. He would be her support and encouragement through so many of the experiences they would be sharing together. Fast forward 60 years.  Never could she have pictured this man as an aged invalid, who could no longer walk or eat on his own.

What gives a woman the physical and emotional strength to handle that kind of 24 hour demand? What has settled in her spirit to give her the ability to remain happy and hopeful every day?

Looking back, she credits her physical endurance to the years of rigorous training as a competitive, Olympic swimmer. At the time of her marriage, she was invited to train for the ’49 Olympics in Finland. Instead, she chose to marry Bob. But her athletic training taught her to persevere, to go beyond her perceived abilities. Today, even at the age of 80, she has retained the muscular strength to lift this 200 pound man.

This man, once a strong willed and accomplished U.S. Marshall, finds himself in a position of utter dependence. He must rely upon his wife for all his needs. A condition, justifiably, most men would have difficulty accepting. However, for sixty years he has seen his wife as a confident and capable women. In organization after organization, she has readily accepted leadership responsibilities. Having stood by his side as a strong partner through many decisions and challenges they’ve faced, he is now able to relinquish himself totally to this woman he has always trusted.  

Are the days ever easy? No. Are there times when she feels she can’t manage? Yes. Where does she go to draw her strength for each day? With a twinkle in her eye, and a quick giggle she answers, “I’m a tree hugger”.

When the challenges seem too great to bear she steps outside into her garden. She sits in the swing they used to share together. She goes down to the Koi pond built with rocks from her parent’s home. She has had a bench set by the pond so she can look down at the stream and talk to her dad or each of the Koi that she knows by name.

She takes a deep breath, looks up at the sequoia redwoods and talks to God. He helped these giants grow and she feels Him with her now. She releases the tension she feels within. She can do this. She has done it before, first with her uncle, then her father and mother and now for her loving husband.

She walks back toward the house with renewed strength, knowing that for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health…she knows the true measure of love. 

Kay was an insurance adjuster and executive for 15 years, a small business owner and a teacher for 10. But, her most fulfilling work has been as a mother of her two boys. She is now looking forward to an empty nest with her best friend—her husband