Last week I came across a remarkable story. Jean-Pierre Adams was a French footballer in the 1970s and 80s, and he passed away on the 6th September, aged 73. He was capped 22 times for France, and was part of a formidable defensive duo for the national side. He played over 250 games for Nice, Nimes and Paris Saint-Germain.
But what makes this story remarkable is that for the past 39 years he has been in a coma, looked after tirelessly by his wife. In 1982 he went for routine knee surgery. The anaesthetic, meant to knock him out for a few hours was mis-administered, and he would never regain consciousness.
At this point his remarkable wife, Bernadette Adams, stepped in. After some months in hospital, and seeing that he had developed infections through bed sores, she took him home. And there for 39 years she has cared for him.
She would sleep in the same room, getting up in the middle of the night to turn him. She would wash, shave, toilet and dress him daily. She prepared his food and fed him. She talked with him, gave him presents. She worked to ensure his muscles were exercised to avoid atrophy and its accompanying pains. She rose at seven each morning, and cared for him until he would fall sleep at around 8pm—if things went well, otherwise it could be all night.
For four decades.
Although there was no waking consciousness, Jean-Pierre seems to have been aware of his surroundings to some extent. His wife said in a 2007 interview, “Jean-Pierre feels, smells, hears, jumps when a dog barks. But he cannot see.” Nurses would report that his mood changed when she was not there, on the rare occasions when she would be away for a night.
She has been asked often about euthanasia. Her response? “It’s unthinkable! He cannot speak. And it’s not for me to decide for him. What do you want me to do—deprive him of food? Let him die little by little? No, no, no.”
Reading articles and interviews on Jean-Pierre and Bernadette’s story, you cannot but feel the admiration of the journalists for her devoted care. Here is a woman whose care epitomises the keeping of those marriage vows: “For better for worse… in sickness and in health.” In one sense, her husband was not the man she married; many would have understood if she had chosen easier ways out.
But this is sacrificial love—the love that comes wrapped in a promise to put the other first no matter what. It is a love that confers dignity without counting the cost. It is what marriage is. What a challenge to those of us who have taken these vows. In a world of self and wriggle room—a steadfast selflessnesss and a refusal to wriggle out of obligations stands out.
But it is more than that.
Marriage is meant to be a picture of Christ’s one hundred percent, all-in, committed love for his people. And what I see in the level of commitment and selfless care that Bernadette Adams, and many others in their marraiges, have shown, is a microcosm of Christ’s unwavering commitment to those who trust in him. A never-stopping, never-giving up kind of love. We may not all be married, we may not all be cared for so deeply, but we could all have Christ caring for us in this way. Absolute, unwavering commitment.