Couple renews vows after wreck claims man’s memories
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — She was only 19 years old, but Sheila McWaters knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Glenn Milligan.
On July 10, 1969, McWaters and Milligan had their first date at the Patio, a hangout where students from Tuscaloosa High School and Tuscaloosa County High would get together to eat and talk. McWaters was a cheerleader for Tuscaloosa County. Milligan was a football player at Tuscaloosa High.
“He was so handsome,” Sheila said.
Within five months, they were married.
On a recent day at their home, as the couple looked ahead to renewing their vows, Sheila thumbed through their wedding photo album, taken at the former Northwood Lake Baptist Church on Dec. 19, 1969.
Glenn glanced at the pictures, but he had no memories attached to them. He doesn’t remember his first date with Sheila. He doesn’t remember how he proposed to her in the parking lot of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Northport. He doesn’t remember the years he coached youth football.
He doesn’t remember getting married.
On April 1, 1997, the Milligans were driving in their car when a car crossed the median, going airborne before hitting them head-on. Glenn was thrown from the car and landed on the pavement, unconscious with a broken neck and cracked skull.
Glenn was rushed to the hospital, where he fell into a coma. Doctors said his chances of survival were slim to none. After two weeks, Milligan woke up, but was a different man with no memories of his life with Sheila or his life as a father of two.
Sheila and Glenn’s son, Joey, compare the accident to losing his father, but gaining someone else entirely.
“We’ve all had to adjust to this because he is a different guy now,” Joey said. “We had to be reintroduced to someone who is not the same.”
It took Glenn years to rebuild his life, relearning how to walk, talk, eat and think. For a time, there was a dark cloud over the Milligan family. Before the accident, he was happy, funny and got along with everyone.
“He was a force of nature,” said Doug, Milligan’s brother. “He was that guy and everyone was drawn to him.”
For Sheila, she lost a part of the man she married and was living with someone completely different. Glenn could become overly sentimental and friendlier than he used to be, but he could also scare Sheila at times. After the wreck, the man who used to cut up with her would act out, go through bouts of anger and become frustrated at the smallest things.
“A lot of times, he would get up in my face and I would dodge him,” she said.
Glenn does not remember those days.
“I guess that just wasn’t me,” he said.
Sheila could have left her husband. The idea certainly came up from time to time. However, she stayed. She had made a commitment to God to be with Glenn in sickness and in health, for better or for worse.
More than anything, Sheila stayed because she was still in love with her husband.
“My love is still as deep as before,” she said. “I’m still as committed as before.”
In many ways, Glenn and Sheila had the chance to fall in love all over again.
“I wouldn’t be here today without her,” Glenn said. “She loves me.”
On Saturday, the Milligans renewed their wedding vows at Cottondale Church of Christ, celebrating 49 years together. Doug, pastor at Hillcrest Church of Christ, officiated the service and wrote the vows that his brother and wife read.
“The kind of love that builds a marriage is not an emotion, it’s a choice,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know what better or worse means. They understand that, are working through that and have made the decision to continue loving each other.”
Sheila said that over the last few months, she thought about renewing her vows with Glenn, making new memories that Glenn can hold onto. Many of the original wedding party, as well as the doctors and nurses who helped Glenn along the way, were invited to take part in the celebration.
“We’re really excited,” she said.
Today, Sheila says she does not wonder why the accident happened or why she and Glenn’s lives are so different now. Now, she is thankful she has the man she loves.
“Things could’ve been different, but I don’t know what it could’ve been,” she said. “All I know is I love him dearly, more than anything in the world.”
Joey still wants the father he grew up with, but realizes that nothing is guaranteed in life. That is why every morning, he prays for his father.
“One of my prayers every morning that he can work through the problems that only he knows he has,” he said.
Over the last 20 years, Joey has good and bad days with his father, days where he has to work on his relationship with him and days where they are best friends. Nonetheless, the family is stronger for it.
“A big thing we say is, ‘A hammer breaks glass and forges steel,’” Joey said. “The accident broke a lot of things in our lives, but it didn’t break their marriage.”
Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, http://www.tuscaloosanews.com