by Latoya Burnham
Mary and Roy Ward’s love story is the stuff of fairy tales. Literally.
They met, fell in love at first sight and then fate, or something equally unfortunate, would part them for the better part of about 30 years before they would find each other again. And once something that was lost has been found, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that that’s the time to hold onto it, or in the case of Roy, hold onto her.
So Roy proposed and marriage plans began for late 2011, and usually this is the point where the fairy tale goes — “And they lived happily ever after”. But here’s where you find the difference between a fairy tale and real life, because Roy and Mary’s story was far from over.
It was July 2011, when he gave her a scare she will not soon forget. He suffered a heart attack, at home.
Roy is a Hazmat and emergency management specialist, with his own business. He’s used to long hours for work, and sometimes even longer ones volunteering with the island’s Roving Response Team. He’s used to catching four, two, sometimes no hours of sleep when duty calls, but he keeps going. So it was a shock to both of them, when in his downtime at home, he suffered a heart attack and had to be rushed to hospital.
Roy can look back on that time now that he is recovering and almost off the medication he’s been taking for the past two years consistently. But back then he said even after the heart attack, the inactivity was driving him up a wall.
“I think you need to speak about the fears that accompany not just a heart attack, but any ailment of this kind,” Mary chimes in.
He simply says: “You’re doing well, carry on smartly”, and she gives him a semi-scowl that he shrugs off telling her it “won’t solve anything, so just carry on.”
“Fear is the biggest challenge to overcome. Number 1, you have to acknowledge the fear, but you need to talk about what those fears were because I can only give my perception of what I saw in the love of my life,” she counters immediately.
As Roy settles into the couch in the couple’s west coast residence, Mary throws him a loving look. It’s one that speaks volumes; the kind of look that leaves no doubt that these two are sickeningly, madly in love. The word soulmates tends to dance around in your head.
Within moments she’s on the couch next to him, curled into his side, as he gives a fake sigh and asks why she didn’t stay at the table with me. Anyone who knows Roy knows his cantankerous act when it comes to Mary is just that, an act.
“You’re a homeland security threat,” he tells her in jest, before continuing. “It is not a question of being scared. You are afraid of overexerting yourself because of what occurred.”
“Doctors will tell you that you need to exercise and do other things that are strenuous or will create enough activity to cause your heart and other affected areas to work… As a result you don’t want to do it because you think if I do that I will end up back where I was. So you have that fear,” he says, comparing it to exercising a broken limb to get back into shape.
“If your job type is one that requires you to be constantly moving, then you have to figure out, what do I do to maintain my job but not put myself back in jeopardy? It is not as easy as people think,” he explains.
He is a man who works in the sun, using heavy equipment, interacting with dangerous chemicals, daily. A whole different kind of heroism was required.
Mary stretches out across his chest and adds, “I remember the first time you had a project, what was it September, October, somewhere in there? He had to put on the special suit for asbestos and crawl up in an attic in the middle of the day and I looked at him and I started to panic. I was like, ‘Promise me, you promise me that if you start feeling anything you will come to me’.
“So what was interesting about my role is that I kept peanuts, I kept granola bars. His water intake increased dramatically, we cut out the soda pops. Actually it has now become routine that when we leave the house we ask each other, ‘You got the water?'”
Roy says before Mary moved to Barbados in fact, having to spend so much time on the road, his diet was a constant stream of fast foods. Now, he eats it, he gets sick — not because of his heart, but because his body has become so accustomed to a new healthy diet that anything else seems foreign and toxic. He laughs as he admits that he can eat a roti now and then but only from select places.
“Every meal now includes a large salad and/or vegetable and a protein. Seriously, his dinners consist of high protein, a salad, pasta or potatoes, a carb, so he only has one carb and I think the fact that his body got cleansed out from MSG and preservatives that they don’t agree with him anymore. He goes through boxes of granola bars; fruit, I cannot keep enough in the house,” says Mary.
Roy is a midnight snacker, so these kinds of things help.
“My role changed because I became fearful. He would leave the house and I would say, please come home to me, Ward. I would always say that, but now it was like, what if something happens to him? I wouldn’t let him go anywhere without me because if something happened I wanted to be right there. It probably took about six months or so because I was scared that something would happen to him,” Mary says.
They started to talk more, to verbalise what they were feeling and thinking so the stress would not build up and they could ease each other’s worries or vent when they needed to.
“What it really took was forcing a balance, learning how to handle the stress. I vomit it all out and I’m done with the stress; he’s one of those guys, Mr. Steam, Mr. Pressure Cooker. He’s really improved. He still internalises but I go, ‘Honey I’m here, talk to me’, then we hold each other in a big huge, tight hug for minutes at a time and not say a word. The most powerful thing is when we hold each other and then just take a deep breath, let it out.”
“This is beginning to sound like a romance, soap opera ting,” Roy grumbles, as Mary holds up to confront him. He crosses his arms and tries his best to look serious, mean. This softer side is not one many see. She mimics him, arms folded, but before long they are both laughing and cuddling again.
“I was injured before but that was a work-related injury… One of the things I learnt was that getting a heart attack is a different story. You aren’t working, you are standing in your house and it hits you. So you begin to think what if I’m driving and it hits me, am I going to turn the car over or hit someone. So you tend to be more cautious,” Roy says.
“I stopped driving for three months because I just wasn’t sure what could happen. I did not do any field work in 2011, because I got sick just before Crop-Over kicked in, so I was cautious too in 2012.”
“I went to see my doctors [recently], both of them and both are impressed with how I function but they are saying still keep it quiet. I don’t know how to keep quiet, that’s not me. So I’m no longer running at Mach 1, I’m more like half a Mach.”
They make it a policy once a month to pack a picnic and head for a quiet day on the beach or liming with friends or a day at the movies.
Mary turns to him suddenly and asks, “We have a 34 year relationship, all of it is over 34 years. Do you think our relationship has changed because of what happened?”
“Yes,” Roy says in a hurry. “She got overly protective. ‘Don’t leave this house without kissing me because you may not come back’. You’re not a mother hen now but in the first few months, she hovered. It makes you cranky. You want to go from where I’m sitting to the bedroom and you want a snack and she asks what’s happening, I’ll get it. I had to go, do you mind? I can do things too you know?”
But Mary brings the fairy tale back home when she simply states: “You have to remind yourself and pull back cause it causes unnecessary stress. I remember it coming to a head, so to speak, with me crying in his neck. Him holding me and I’m just crying and saying, ‘I can’t imagine living without you.’
“From that point on we were good. He had to know that was what that was all about. I’m not trying to be a nag or anything, except, I’m scared honey. I can’t, I just can’t live without you.” firstname.lastname@example.org