When Walter Long moved into his new home in Roxbury a few years after completing a tour of duty as a U.S. Navy machinist during the Vietnam War, someone across the street noticed.
That someone was the mother of Valerie Akins, who was then 26 years old, single and recently back home after a relaxing vacation with friends in the Bahamas. “A nice-looking gentleman moved in across the street,” her mother casually noted.
It was a warm spring day when Akins went to sit on her mother’s porch and enjoy the weather. She caught the eye of that handsome gentleman from across the street.
“I want to meet that gal,” Long recalled thinking. He walked over to say hello. It was the start of nearly four decades of love and partnership.
They postponed marriage; life always got in the way, explained Akins, now 65. But together they celebrated times of joy – including the birth of their son, Jonathan, now 30 – and faced challenges. The most poignant of those was when Long, now 69, was diagnosed with terminal metastatic bone cancer. He was recently admitted to the Brigham to receive care as the disease progresses.
Wanting to make the most of their time together, Long and Akins (now Akins-Long) married in the family room on Tower 10B on April 3. Family, friends and members of Long’s care team gathered for a wedding ceremony performed by Bishop Enos Gardiner, MA, BCC, of Spiritual Care Services, and filled with scripture, song and loving vows.
“I give this ring to you with all the love in my heart that I have,” Long said to Akins, speaking from a hospital bed wheeled into the room for the ceremony. “And I give this ring with appreciation to have a woman like you who stood by a guy like me for more than 30 years, for all the tough times and the all good times. You were always there. You believe in me, and I believe in you.”
Through tears, Akins pledged her love in return as she slipped a wedding band on Long’s finger: “Walter, I give you this ring to show all the love I have for you and all the love I’ve ever had.”
After reading from the book of Genesis and leading the room in prayer, Gardiner said it was his privilege to witness and perform the ceremony.
“God has caused them to stay together in spite of any challenges – and that’s what real love will do,” he said. “When the storm comes and the wind blows, when you feel like giving up, there is something known as ‘stickability,’ and they have that.”
Other BWHers who helped organize the ceremony were Farah Abellard, MSN, RN, charge nurse; Pauline Brunache, patient care assistant; Ruth Delfiner, of Spiritual Care Services; and Jennifer Lopes, unit coordinator.
The bride’s sister, Fern Seay, an administrative assistant in the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, attended the wedding and described the couple as inseparable.
“They’ve been together forever,” Seay said. “When you see Val, you see Walter. You see Walter, you see Val. You just associate them together all the time.”
The newlyweds said they were deeply grateful to the Brigham for the exceptional care that its staff has provided – medically and emotionally.
“Walter has been a patient of Brigham and Women’s for so long. He really likes this hospital, so we came here when he needed care,” Akins-Long said. “They take excellent care of us.”