Mary and Matthew, disabled persons, may not be able to walk like normal people. But their love lets them soar above their physical difficulties. They lean on each other in hard times. They revel in each other’s daily cycle of victory and defeat. They enjoy every second they have together. This was obvious when we met with these two brave lovers…
Dominic Desmarais File: Health
Mary can’t walk more than two steps without the use of her cane. And at age 51 she knows her condition will never improve. She has Multiple Sclerosis. Mary does not waste time wallowing in self-pity.
She was perfectly healthy for most of her life. But five years ago she began to limp and lose her balance. “It’s horrible, it came out of nowhere,” she says. “I was running to catch a bus, and I fell flat on my face.”
She wonders aloud if the morphine derivative Dilaudid she was prescribed following a colon operation may have triggered her MS: “I saw a report saying the drug was dangerous, that it causes heavy side effects and even death. It made me hallucinate. I didn’t sleep for 2 days, even though it’s supposed to be an anesthetic.”
Her legs cause her enormous pain, but she still manages to get them to move. “I take normal public transportation. As long as I’m able to walk I don’t want to use special handicapped transport.”
Despite her determination, she realizes that her health is deteriorating. “It’s gotten much worse over the last year,” she says. “I have leg spasms. It’s like an electric charge. I go numb. Sometimes I can’t feel my arms. When that happened I said to myself, ‘Oh no! Not my arms! Leave me those, at least!’ For the last two months, they’ve been okay.”
Her biggest preoccupation involves standing up in the shower. “I’m not sure I can stay on my feet,” she says. “Every time I go in the shower I worry.”
Matthew has suffered from MS since 2004. He barely has any sensation left in his body. He has no leg strength. He spends his days smoking joints in his wheelchair to bring some feeling back to his fingers. He is frequently incontinent.
In 2010 Matthew began adaptive physiotherapy. He lost all motivation to carry on. “I wanted to die,” he admits. “I was going nuts.”
A mutual friend told Mary about Matthew’s story. Fully 12 years her junior, he invited her over for dinner. It was July 27, the eve of Mary’s birthday. They have been together ever since.
“It didn’t take long for us to fall in love,” Mary says. “That’s unusual for me. At first I had no idea what I was getting into. I was afraid of hurting him in his wheelchair.” Ever considerate, Mary did not want traumatize her new love.
Matthew nods his head as Mary recounts her initial fears. “When we started going out I kept crying like a hurt puppy.” Subject to complaints and verbal abuse from his ex-wife, who could not deal with his condition, he asked himself who could ever possibly love him again.
“He was so sensitive,” Mary recalls. “I kept asking if I’d done or said anything to hurt him. I’d kiss him and his eyes would fill with tears. It took him months to realize that I love him for who he is. He was very worried. I think it’s like that for most disabled people.
Being disabled changes everything. Your values aren’t the same. Romantic relationships are different. You don’t waste time stressing over silly little things. You just don’t have the energy. For us, time is really important. As for Matthew you never know what will happen to him.”
Both Mary and Matthew are jobless. “As a couple, we couldn’t cope with jobs or a family,” Mary says. “Every 2 weeks Matthew gets a visit from his daughter. We’re together all day except for breakfast. There are none of those conversations about what we did that day, or how things went at work. Besides, Matthew has a lot of grief to deal with. ”
Mary was, until less than a year before we met with the pair, drinking heavily. “I’d hit the bars,” she admits. “Now my party is here, with my Matthew. For us it’s always Sunday!”
Disabled love requires sacrifice: “We aren’t about to stroll to the top of Mount Royal!” Matthew smiles.
Mart gazes tenderly at Matthew before picking up the conversation: “If he falls asleep while we’re together, I understand. Neither of us have the energy we used to have! A normal person would find our lives pretty dull. We know what activities will tire us out, like swimming for example. We plan everything ahead. Sometimes we just go out and sit on the bench in the courtyard of our building.”
Mary moved into an apartment in Matthew’s building so they could be together. She lives one floor below her beloved. The building is specially adapted for the disabled. She is happy she moved: “I don’t miss where I used to live, with its 40 steps to climb… Without Matthew I never would have got a place here. I don’t know how I would have managed in my old place.”
One activity that brings these two lovebirds close is exercise. Mary does a lot of stationary bike work: “It’s my religion,” she says. “I’m very disciplined. If I weren’t exercising a lot I wouldn’t be able to walk a step. Being fit helps enormously when I get leg spasms. Matthew does his exercises at the same time as me. It motivates him. I’ve seen some improvement in his condition. At the gym, he isn’t as strong as me, but at least he isn’t lying in bed all day. It’s good for our morale. And it brings us together as a couple.”
Mary and Matthew look deeply into each other’s eyes. They openly savor every moment they spend in each other’s company. “We enjoy the little things that were boring to us before we met each other,” she coos. “We’re very lucky.”
Traveling is a challenge. When the pair headed to Quebec City for 4 days to visit Matthew’s sister on her birthday, they had to organize everything in advance. “We rented a lift to put Matthew to bed and get him up in the morning,” Mary explains. “And we had to rent a manual wheelchair so he could move around inside his sister’s house.” The lift cost $100 to rent; the manual chairlift, $45. But for this couple, any trip is priceless!
Mary had zero expectations when she met Matthew. “He’s so kind,” she says. “There are so many people in relationships who just fight and argue all the time. When you’re disabled you have time to step back and see the big picture, and especially, listen. We talk a lot together.”
The two don’t shy away from public displays of affection. “We kiss a lot,” Mary boasts. “We’re in love! It’s always funny to see how other people react. My favorite moments are when I’m with my boyfriend. We’ve been together for a year now.”
The pair say they enjoy a full and sensual love life. Mary describes them as “spoiled rotten” in terms of sex: “If we’re going to have a sex life Matthew has to be with someone who accepts him for what and who he is. That’s love.”
Like a jealous teenager, Mary bristles when Matthew’s orthopedic day nurse is around. “Boy, am I eager to see her leave at the end of the day,” she admits. “That’s the only time we have to cuddle. Because he’s in his wheelchair all day.”
To get a good night’s sleep, Matthew requires an orthopedic hospital bed that he can remote control, Mary tells us. “We tried my bed, but the mattress is too firm. In his bed, he can lift his legs and his head. Not in mine.”
Mary has to make the trip up one floor to see Matthew at his place. But she’s not complaining. She has had a single bed installed next to his orthopedic bed. Both beds sit at the same level. Each morning Mary makes her bed and leaves so as not to be in the way of the orthopedic nurse.
“I get out by 8 a.m. each morning,” she says. “I prefer that to going back to my apartment at night.”
Matthew likes that arrangement as well: it saddens him when she slips out in the middle of the night. “It’s tough to see her go,” he says. “We’re going to have to request a king-sized orthopedic bed.”
Occasionally, Matthew gets out of his own bed and takes the elevator to Mary’s place. He makes an adventure out of it: “I’m going on a holiday trip! That’s what I say when I sleep at Mary’s. One night I’m in Paris; the next time, in Spain. When I don’t have a good night I say I’m in Saskatchewan. And I never go back there!”
The profound bond of love uniting these two souls has changed both their lives. Matthew accepts his situation more than ever before. His suicidal thoughts have vanished. His bitterness has diminished. He has found joy.
And he is handsome – in Mary’s eyes, which for him is all that counts in life. He relishes every day of their relationship. And he devotes all his days and nights to their love.