Sharing a love that overcomes all obstacles

Marriage: After 10 years of heartache and hope, a Philadelphia couple embarks on life together against the odds.

October 07, 2001|By Michael Vitez | Michael Vitez,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PHILADELPHIA - When Carol Seelaus showed up a little before 10 a.m. on a recent Saturday, Nick Ide was already dressed in his tuxedo pants and white shirt. Carol had had them cleaned and pressed. She brought his red boutonniere.

"He looked almost shiny," she said. "He had a smile on his face that small children could have fallen into."

Carol had been to a dollar store, and had bought decorations - plastic flowers, candles, crepe paper, and duct tape to bind it all together. She and her second cousin Norma Hall decorated the courtyard, making small centerpieces for the picnic tables. The altar would be a brick grill, beneath a marvelously spreading mulberry tree. Carol also brought a small American flag and flew it by the altar.

Finally Carol ran home to get her dress. Nick wanted her to wear a bridal gown, but Carol, 47, resisted. They were too expensive, too fancy. She settled for a mother-of-the-bride dress: modest, no long train, but still white, still beautiful. Nick, 45, tried to grab her the first time he saw her in it, so she knows he likes it.

She changed in Nick's room.

All the guests were asked to bring snacks. Inglis House, the West Philadelphia nursing home where Nick lives, provided two trash cans filled with ice. The families of some of Nick's fellow residents made sandwiches, brought sodas.

The night before, Carol cooked all of Nick's favorites - shrimp salad, apricots, butternut squash - and pureed them.

Carol lives nine blocks away in a small condominium in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. She moved there last year after Nick came to Inglis House. On Sundays, she often pushes him in his wheelchair up and down the hills to her condo. They read the classifieds together. She's always telling him he'd better get a job.

Just after 1 p.m., the guests were seated. A tape of Mozart began playing.

A beaming bridegroom

Nick came first, beaming. He was driving his own, new, power wheelchair. He'd been practicing for weeks. Carol wept just watching him. "For the first time in four years he's able to go someplace without my pushing him there." He was shaky. His best man, Orlando Castro, his former social worker, walked beside him, redirecting him gently whenever he veered off course.

Carol planned to give herself away. Her parents are dead. Carol's best friends now are Nick's neighbors. One of them, Marie Turnbull, was horrified that Carol had nobody to give her away and volunteered to be maid of honor.

Marie came next in her wheelchair.

Finally, Carol emerged, carrying a dozen roses. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she walked to the altar in her white high heels. She kissed Marie, whispered, "Thank you," and sat on a kitchen stool, across from Nick.

Edie Weinstein Moser, an interfaith minister from Dublin, Pa., officiated. She quoted Judy Garland: "Twas not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart."

Lives changed

Nick and Carol met a decade ago at a writer's group. A year later, they were at dinner one night when Nick picked up two floating candles and stuck them together, flame to flame. "That's us," he said. Then on Oct. 5, 1997, their lives changed.

Nick, who has a master's degree in physics and worked for a solar energy group, was putting a new roof on the house of friends in West Philadelphia. He fell from a 40-foot extension ladder. He was in a coma for six weeks. He suffered brain damage and quadriplegia.

Carol's life changed as much. What she has done for Nick requires a book to describe. (She keeps a log at www.nickide.com.) Not only has she battled, relentlessly, for better care for Nick in countless hospitals, nursing homes and rehab centers, but also has pushed him, loved him, willed him to get better. A year after his accident, he could communicate only by raising his eyebrows. He had to breathe through a tracheotomy tube, and be nourished through a feeding tube.

Now Nick and Carol, at the altar, each picked up a burning candle and once again brought them together. And this time, they lit a third candle together.

For weeks, Nick had been rehearsing his vows. To be safe, however, the best man said them first, a few words at a time, and Nick repeated them. His speech was slurred, soft, a struggle. The patio fell silent.

Showing the world

"You are my pride and joy. ... I want to share my life with you. ... When we sail around the world, I'll do the cooking, you peel the potatoes. ... We'll grow old together and show the world what love really means."

Carol held his hand, beaming, weeping. Then she took her turn.

"I'll let you chart our course, because I'd go anywhere with you."

They exchanged rings. The minister pronounced them "life partners." "Wildest Dreams" by the Moody Blues soared from the boom box. Carol wanted that song "because our vows are all dreams." Carol leaned over and gave Nick one long, huge, sloppy kiss.

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