Sterling and Ruth have one of the greatest love stories that I’ve ever discovered, and I didn’t know it until after they died.
Ruth, in a sense, was already dead to everyone she had known. For thirty years her bipolar disorder distanced herself far away from all she loved. The Methodist congregation forced her to leave after Ruth shouted during a service. That was hard to recover from, yet she still explored religions, going to India and discovering a teacher she emphatically followed before emphatically rejecting his teachings.
The final straw for her adult children came on flag day. That was the day she had stolen hundreds of her neighbors’ newspapers to add her insert about the lack of respect for the flag in this country and landed in jail. They told their father, Sterling, that Ruth must be committed. She refused to take her medications. She screamed for days at a time and beat the walls. Sterling accepted who she was and would not commit her against her will.
He patched the walls. He put out the medications. He dolefully attended various court proceedings. And he cared for her at home. There were many good months, in which they would go for a drive and visit the old places. Talk to the old relatives, lay wreathes in the family cemeteries. There were many sad months, in which he locked his bedroom door and hoped that Ruth would stay in the house. There was a time when Sterling thought he could save Ruth. He taped her conversations when she was manic and listened to them for hours, searching for clues.
Those tapes gave no clues. Ruth became depressed when her eldest son tragically died, and soon after, she survived a significant head injury. All which probably contributed to her illness. To everyone else on the outside of Sterling and Ruth’s relationship, whoever Sterling had married, whoever had raised the children – that person was gone. A husk of a person remained that looked like Ruth.
When she suddenly died, many were sad but also relieved. They thought that Sterling would feel the same way. For him, however, he surrendered to Ruth completely. When she died, he followed. His wife was his whole world, in sickness and in health. I am my beloved and my beloved is mine, people say to each other on their wedding day. They quote an ancient text that has captured the spirit of love throughout the ages. Sterling and Ruth lived this, for better or for worse.
I would not use their relationship as an example to anyone. I wouldn’t let my partner’s illness become my whole life and would do my best to continue my life if he died before me. I need to be my own person in a relationship, not let myself be defined by my relationship. There are parts of it that are good that I can learn from, and there are parts of it that I would change for myself.
I do believe Sterling and Ruth’s have a beautiful love story. Ruth sacrificed so much – her career, her education – to raise four children and be the doting stay at home mother for her family. Sterling sacrificed so much – his friends, his freedom – to always be at home for her care. I wish you could have met them, sitting in their armchairs quietly, passing the newspaper crossword back and forth to each other. I wish I had known them long ago, right before their eldest had left for the navy.
Sometimes, we can not fight the truth any longer, and we surrender to the forces greater than ourselves. To our loves, to our life as it is, to our inevitable end. There is such beauty in the way Sterling and Ruth surrendered to one another. Their surrender was enough.