DAPHNE — Brenda Picard, a resident at Eastern Shore Rehabilitation and Health Center, first met Theldon Higgins in physical therapy. He was working on his mobility issues after a stroke, and …
DAPHNE — Brenda Picard, a resident at Eastern Shore Rehabilitation and Health Center, first met Theldon Higgins in physical therapy.
He was working on his mobility issues after a stroke, and she was working on her own issues. She saw something special in that face and those blue eyes. He liked her sense of humor, which matched his own.
"There were a lot of fireworks," he said.
After that first meeting, Picard made a snap decision that she conveyed to Gabi Ladner, an employee at Eastern Shore.
"When he wheeled away, I said, 'Gabi, I've got to have him,'" Picard said.
Higgins said he'd had four previous wives and wasn't in the market for a fifth. Picard had two previous husbands, and she was definitely hoping for a third. But the Louisiana native never expected to find him in rehab.
The romance for Higgins, 74, and Picard, 70, moved fast. By Picard's reckoning, Higgins proposed marriage within a week.
"The biggest thing was we had so much in common," Higgins said. "Our wit, you would say, is the same. We wisecrack about the same stuff."
And, there were more serious considerations, too. Higgins realized: "Here she was. She actually cared about me. How much better can you ask for?"
On April 19, Higgins and Picard were married in the chapel of Eastern Shore Rehabilitation and Health Center. It was, without doubt, the social event of the season.
The staff pulled out all the stops to stage the festive affair. The bride wore a purple wedding dress, so the staff bought the groom a purple shirt to match. Eastern Shore staffer Kentrice Thomas served Higgins as best lady. A former chef who works in physical therapy showed out on the food.
Even though the bride and groom have no family in the area, close to 100 staff and other residents were on hand to witness their big day.
"This was the biggest wedding I ever had," said Higgins, a Michigan native who worked most of his life as a building maintenance engineer. "They went nuts. It was just one big family having a party and cheering us on."
The day was memorable not just for the laughs, but also for the tears.
Higgins had fixed it in his mind that he would stand up when his bride appeared and walked down the aisle. The best lady fretted about whether that was such a good idea. But Higgins insisted.
When the moment came, he got on his feet — and burst into tears. He was overwhelmed, he said, by the moment and by his lovely bride.
"He stood up, and he was crying like a baby. He said I was so pretty," Picard said. "When I saw him crying, I started crying."
But the tears quickly turned to celebration as the ceremony proceeded, and the couple exchanged vows.
Afterward, there was a big buffet spread. Some initially scoffed at the groom's suggestion of a carrot cake, but it turned out beautifully, inscribed "Congratulations Higgy & Brenda" on top and adorned with purple and white roses. There was a little dancing, Higgins said, but mostly it was just people joking around and having fun.
Higgins and Picard are both still in awe of the day — of everything Eastern Shore did to make the event special and the fact that the wedding happened at all.
"This is the last thing either of us thought would happen," Picard said. "It just floored us. It's just the right combination for us."
As husband and wife, Higgins and Picard share a room — and so much more as they face an uncertain future.
Shortly after his proposal, Higgins learned that his pancreatic cancer had returned and no further treatment was advised. He offered Picard a chance to back out.
She declined, with characteristic style.
"I said, 'You asked me, and I did say yes, so shut up,'" Picard said. "I told him I would take care of him all the way to the end."
How much time they'll have is in God's hands, they say. But however long that turns out to be, they intend to enjoy themselves and each other. The good-natured jabs flow back and forth between them. He says she cheats at dominoes. She calls him a turkey. They laugh and hold hands.
Even their infirmities are fodder for laughter.
"I can't keep up with this kid," Higgins jokes. "She wears me out."
But at the end of the day — literally — there's someone to talk with, someone who cares.
"When some people go to bed at night, they're in bed all by themselves, whereas her and I can talk," Higgins said. "What we've seen that day. How we feel about it. … It's nice to be with somebody who understands and can help you through your hard times."