He died three days before our fifty-fourth wedding anniversary. We did not know exactly when he would leave us but we knew given the diagnosis of ALS that the end would come sooner rather than later, given his age at the time of onset. We had mutually agreed we would try to remain in good health until our nineties, but it was written otherwise. As deaths go, his was peaceful and dignified, appropriate for such a quiet, gentle presence of a man. He fell into unconsciousness six days before he died, his wife and two children by his side. Hospice assured us he could still hear so we talked to him constantly and family and friends came and relatives from afar called and there was a constant energy of love and blessings and remembering, all spoken in Arabic or French or English, or all three, depending on who was doing the talking. He was a lover of French poetry, a grand master, in fact. He could make friends shed a tear or break into a smile or laughed out loud when, in his lovely French accent, he recited his favorite verses from Moliere or Baudelaire or Verlaine. And when he could no longer talk, it was these same friends who sat at his bedside and recited his favorite poems back to him.
He was no ordinary man and ours was no ordinary marriage. It was full of memorable adventures and joys but it was the challenges of living in a war zone that tested our commitment and made us, as a couple, stronger, more resilient, more respectful of one another. And if each of us did our part to keep our family safe, it was this quiet man who was the true hero. When the battles came to Badaro Street, he armed himself with a sawed-off gun and stood behind the barricades alongside his neighbors to protect our neighborhood from enemy incursions. After a heavy night of shelling, he would leave home early morning, willing to risk sniper fire and mortar shells, to reach his hospital in time to see his patients or mend the wounded or, in some cases, send their mangled bodies to the morgue. After eight years of civil war with no end in sight, this honorable man made the gut-wrenching decision to leave his country, move his family back to the states and begin a new practice so he could provide for them. For the next twenty-two years, he served his new community honorably and proudly contributed to its well-being.
When he arrived in the states in 1964 to begin his training, he was betrothed and never intended to fall in love with a woman with hazel green eyes, but he did, and how lucky I was, for it was through his love that I developed a Beirut heart, and although I have lost the love of my life, my heart will remain forever loyal to a city I love but that is now struggling for its own survival.
Cathy Sultan’s book A Beirut Heart: One Woman’s War can be found on Amazon