The world saw him as a genius but for his wife he was her lover.
To know about Stephen Hawking's life is to understand that he was so much more than a scientist.
He was on an unrelenting quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe that would let humankind see the "mind of God." Mere scientific advances were not the only thing he pursued but he wanted to know "the theory of everything."
Therefore, it is only natural that a man with such a profound awareness of everything will have an extraordinary and intense personal life.
At a very young age, Hawking was diagnosed with the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis that causes nerve cells to break down leading to reduced functionality. Most lose their ability to walk, talk, swallow, move, or breathe, according to Mayo Clinic. Doctors gave him two years to live – in 1963, as per the Independent. But the fact that he outlived his allotted time and executed some major scientific breakthroughs by the time he died in 2018 proves that there was something worth living for. And that reason, he later says, was his wife.
But back then, this news came as a shock to the theoretical physicist and he shut himself in his room at Cambridge.
According to one observer, his personality “was overshadowed by a deep depression … Harsh black cynicism, aided and abetted by long hours of Wagnerian opera at full volume,” reports the Independent. The observer also said, when he drove a car, he drove so fast as if he didn't fear death. The observer was an undergrad Jane Wilde who knew him from 1962 when they met at a party in their hometown of St Albans.
While they had a spark between them, Hawking tried to push her away from him, presumably, to save her from heartbreak. But it was too late, Jane was in love. “He scarcely bothered,” she remembered, “To veil his hostility and frustration, as if he were deliberately trying to deter me from further association with him.”
But by then, as Jane also wrote in her autobiography Travelling to Infinity, “It was too late… I was completely under his spell, bewitched by his clear blue-grey eyes and the broad dimpled smile.”
And so it happened, undaunted by an inevitable tough future, the couple exchanged vows in 1965. She was 21, he was 23. However, problems in the paradise started quite early on when his parents, the distinguished medical researcher Frank and the Oxford graduate mother Isobel, didn't approve of the match.
In an interview with The Guardian, Jane Hawking revealed that her mother-in-law once told her, “We don’t like you because you don’t fit into our family.”
Her father-in-law, however, asked her to have children soon given that their son might not have a lot of time. But, Jane wrote, “I did not see much point in having whatever natural optimism I could muster destroyed by a litany of doom-laden prophecies. I replied that I loved Stephen so much that nothing could deter me from wanting to marry him.”
Hawking, on the other hand, later admitted that marriage gave him "something to live for.” The family expanded and they brought three lovely children to the world, Robert, Lucy, and Timothy. Now, he was more serious about his work and concentrated only on what he is good at. With Jane by his side, he soon started making breakthroughs. He also published his critically acclaimed and insightful book A Brief History of Time during this phase.
However, their worst nightmare soon started coming true. His symptoms started worsening and it resulted in a total lack of movement and the ability to speak, therefore, he was confined to the wheelchair. Having to wash, clothe, and feed her husband, Jane's relationship with him became “maternal rather than marital”. “His heroic stoicism,” she wrote, “increased my sense of guilt at even giving voice to the slightest misgivings.”
And so she was left alone with “the crushing responsibility, the emotional strain, the aching fatigue of bringing up two small children [Timothy arrived later] unaided at the same time as caring for a seriously disabled person who was wasting away before one’s very eyes.”
Gradually, Jane started falling for a choirmaster Hellyer Jones, who was widowed a couple of years ago and shared her love for music. The new couple decided to build a life and relationship of their own and Hawking graciously accepted that.
Hawking, Jane wrote, “generously accepted my relationship with Jonathan – provided it was discreet and posed no threat to our family, to our children, to our home or to the running of the nursing rota.”
She loved Hellyer Jones, but she still loved Hawking “with a deeply caring compassion.”
She told The Guardian, “There was no alternative to just carrying on. I felt very committed to Stephen, and I didn’t think he could manage without me. I wanted him to carry on doing his amazing work, and I wanted the children to have a stable family behind them – so we just carried on."
“We all lived in such harmony, and for so long,” she added.
Hawking and Jane divorced, after which he married Elaine, one of his caregivers in 1995. Jane married Hellyer Jones in 1997.
While Hawking's union with Elaine came to an end in 2006 due to reasons unknown, he still shared a bond of compassion and affection with Jane and her husband Jones.
By 2014, Hawking, who remained single after his second divorce was enjoying living life on his own, he used to live around the corner from Jane and Jones and they enjoyed talking about the kids and had Sunday lunches together.
Later, several sources came forward to speak about Hawking's human side and how he was a deeply emotional person. The one thing, however, that probably made Hawking a lover, a father, and a human being before a scientist was his wife Jane. And that alone can prove that a person can be a genius and a human at the same time.
Stephen Hawking passed away on March 14, 2018, at his home in Cambridge. According to the BBC, his saddened children in a statement praised his "courage and persistence" and said his "brilliance and humour" inspired people across the world. They added, "He once said, 'It would not be much of a universe if it wasn't home to the people you love.' We will miss him forever."