I usually write about the people with special needs who are part of my arts education program or I write about being the mother of an addict in recovery. Today, I’m writing about a totally different topic…my marriage. I’m close to being an “expert” on the topic of marriage, as I’ve been married for over 28 years to the same man, who was my sweetheart for five years before we said, “I do.”
What prompted me to think about marriage is that I went to a wedding last weekend. The groom has been one of my daughter’s closest friends since they were in diapers and he is the first one of her close friends to tie the knot. He and his bride looked like Barbie and Ken, so gorgeous and happy. When the minister said, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” I thought, “He’s not a man…he’s a little boy who’s diapers I changed; a boy who was convinced he was Captain Hook for about two years; a boy who loved to eat Reece’s Pieces…very deliberately, one at a time…for hours.”
As I teared up, Alan put his arm around me. Maybe he thought I was thinking of our wedding day, of how quickly the years have gone by, of how incredible it is to realize that we’ve been together more than half of our lives. I was thinking these things but I was also thinking that I’ve taken for granted that I will always have Alan by my side and that we’re too old to take anything for granted anymore.
When I was 25 and again when I was 40, I had intestinal resection surgery to deal with my diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, a chronic and progressive disease of the intestines. Alan’s had to face the possibility of my death and he’s had to nurse me through everything from C-sections to back surgery. The worst health issue that Alan’s ever had was a torn ACL. Because I live with a chronic illness, I’ve obviously thought about the possibility of my death and have sometimes agonized over the thought that I might not be around to watch my children reach adulthood or to be a grandmother.
I’ve worried about what my children would do without me but never about Alan. He’s a man, after all, tough and capable. I’ve always figured that I’d go first and that he’d get married again or would spend the rest of his life remembering me with affection but would move on without much fanfare, remaining strong for our kids. I’ve never doubted his love and devotion but I guess I’ve always thought we were two individuals who decided to spend our lives together and who would eventually be okay when one of us was gone and the other had to return to life before those “I dos.” I’ve been oblivious to how old we’ve gotten and told myself that one of us dying…well, that won’t happen for years. Only we’re not so young anymore and Alan wouldn’t have been okay if something had happened to me. I know this now because the tables have turned and for the first time in the 32 years that I’ve known him, Alan is facing a health crisis.
It’s nothing he won’t recover from but it is something that involves a serious major surgery, scheduled for two weeks from now. It will involve a week in the hospital, then a 6-week recovery and it will involve a lot of pain and some alterations to his lifestyle. I know he will be fine, I’m grateful that a routine procedure discovered something that isn’t critical now but would have been a death sentence a year from now and I have no doubt that he will recover completely. But imagining, even for a minute, that I might lose him is something I wasn’t prepared to think about. No, if something had happened to me, Alan wouldn’t have been able to just move on and if he goes before me neither will I.
As the bride and groom pledged to be there for each other through sickness and health, I thought about the power of those vows we take. Two young people choose each other and then they stand in front of God and everyone they love and promise to hang in there, even when it gets hard. Those words we say to each other, when we are too young to really understand what they mean, are what bind us together through the years and the ups and the downs, through the joy and the tears and the loss. When people take those vows, they cease to me “you” and “me” and they become “we.” Alan and I have been a “we” for so long that I can’t even contemplate what it would mean to be “me” again…and I never want to find out.
Being married isn’t easy. Marriage requires a selfless resolve to remember those vows every day and to work through those things that make it difficult to live with the same person day in and day out. Marriage means that sometimes you may not get what you want and sometimes, you might not even get what you need. But it also means that if you stick with it, your relationship with each other will evolve into an intricate tapestry with threads of tragedy, sadness and pain woven together with threads of joy and contentment. If you stay the course, your marriage will become a union of you and me that cannot be put asunder because it’s woven together so tightly that it’s bonds are stronger than you could imagine when you were young and so in love. And when you’ve been married long enough, you will know that you are a different person, a better person because of your spouse and because of all the things you’ve shared in your life as husband and wife.
Because of this current health crisis, I realize that I cannot take being married for granted any longer because it won’t last forever…one of us will leave our marriage someday. The other one won’t be ready when that happens and the other one will never be the same. But at least whichever one of us is left behind will have a beautiful tapestry to wrap around our shoulders.