This is, perhaps, more closely a love story than an essay: a love that began 43 years ago and appears to have increased, as the best love does, with time. It’s also the type of true love story that doesn’t run from tragedy. Perhaps the truest love is, in fact, strengthened by it.

One of the protagonists of this story is a 69-year-old woman; let’s call her Rachel (I am also proud to call her my friend). Its setting for the last two years is aNearly eight years ago, Rachel began to lose her balance nursing facility that Rachel has had to call home. Nearly eight years ago, when Rachel began to lose her balance, she was diagnosed with atypical Parkinson’s disease, which is characterized by additional degeneration of cells in parts of the nervous system, and for which there currently is no cure. The disease has robbed this once highly independent woman of her ability to ambulate, speak and even eat. Yet throughout it all, Rachel, a retired Hebrew teacher, has maintained her dignity. For the decade I have known her, she has never complained. She has remained kind and supportive, and determined to get well.

The other protagonist of this story is Rachel’s 72-year-old husband, Shmuel. Soon after my friend was diagnosed, Shmuel invited a few couples out to dinner to cheer up his wife. Other than a faraway, unfocused look in my friend’s eyes, all seemed fine. That is, until she stood up. Before I could register that she had begun to swerve, Shmuel was by her side supporting her until she regained her balance.

He hasn’t strayed far from her side ever since. A retired elementary-school music teacher, he succeeded in keeping Rachel at home for the first six years of her illness, hiring full-time aides for stimulation and to keep her company, and putting together the best team he could: a cornucopia of specialists, therapists and alternative modality practitioners to improve Rachel’s quality of life. While she could, Rachel kept up with the program, including using a stationary bicycle daily. Two years ago, when she lost her ability to swallow and required a feeding tube, Shmuel felt overwhelmed and frightened, and reluctantly placed her in a nursing home. But he visits every day and is never quick to leave.

“I miss her too much,” he says, and by the look in his eyes, anyone would know that he means it. Usually, he brings his recorder, so he can play the Israeli tunes he taught himself; they’re the traditional songs that his wife grew up listening to in Israel and the United States, and still loves. As Rachel sits in her wheelchair, Shmuel often takes her hands gently in his, plays an Israeli CD, and sways back and forth with her hands in a dance. If I’m fortunate enough to arrive while he’s still there, he beckons to me with the words: “Come see my beautiful wife.” I always make it a point to ask him how he is doing, too. Although my friend is suffering, so is her husband. “As long as I’m with Rachel, it’s a good day,” he answers.

I’ve had illnesses, but I have no idea what it’s like to be fully encased in a body that betraysRegardless of how she’s feeling, she continues to fight each day you. Sometimes, I look in Rachel’s eyes and see there—or so I think—the desire to simply give in. After all these years of struggling, to simply surrender. But I think this story is also Rachel’s love story. A love for her husband, who keeps her going just one more day because a day with Rachel “makes the day worth living.” It’s a love story to her adult children, who call daily, sometimes singing Israeli songs that Rachel loves most, or just speaking to her with deep respect and tenderness. As I write this, her son is in Israel seeking medical specialists involved with his mother’s rare form of Parkinson’s—something that may be able to stave off further deterioration. Like their father, her children have never given up hope.

Perhaps, most of all, this is a love story to G‑d, a spoken belief that He may create a miracle, and that Rachel may have a complete recovery and that her body will heal. But if not, she still retains a firm belief in G‑d’s closeness. (She loves being read the weekly Torah portion). Just like G‑d stayed with the Jewish people who were exiled after the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, Rachel, within her broken body, believes that G‑d is with her. That He’s with her in her hope. That He’s with her in her despair. And yes, that He’s even with her in her anger.

Regardless of how she’s feeling, she continues to fight each day. She still maintains the dignity to wave “hello” and “goodbye”—one of the small movements she still possesses—and to provide as much of a smile as her wayward muscles will allow. When those she loves are about to leave, she squeezes their hands, as much to communicate her love as to ask for its continuance. To help her hold on. Perhaps like the Jewish people itself, despite her broken body, my friend Rachel remains whole.