Thoughts on Marriage

Brittany and Andy — July 2021

Brittany and Andy have now been married just over a month, so marriage is on my mind.

Brittany and Andy – October 2020

They are so good together, which I love to see whenever I stay with them for a few days to help Brittany during chemo. She’s just finished her last round, so we are celebrating that (while trying not to think of the radiation to come).

I’m missing David so sharply again, after I’d thought the pain of loss had dulled a bit for good.

David — October 2016
David at Sunapee, July 2014, the middle of our year of adventure

But I am still profoundly grateful for all the years we had together.

On Île d’Aix with Pascale and Jacky – June 2014

Today, the 29th, marks exactly five years since the oncologist confirmed that David’s cancer was terminal, and that’s hitting harder than I expected. Also, as much fun as the wedding was, there were definite challenges that he would have navigated so much better than I did.

So I’m thinking about marriage today. Not always easy, I know . . . .

In France with David, May 2017

The following is something I originally wrote for a marriage course offered at our church early this year.  I suppose these principles could — to a certain degree — apply to all close relationships, so I hope it speaks to you, whatever your current situation. Here it is slightly revised today:

Thoughts on Marriage from the Other Side

It’s an odd place to be, having been married for nearly forty years, but now no longer part of that set, the coupled. David used to tease me – before we knew it would turn out to be prophetic – that I didn’t need him, that I’d be fine on my own as long as I had a good book, a cup of tea or a glass of wine, a comfy chair by the fire. He wasn’t wrong, exactly. I have survived and even occasionally thrived during these past three years since he’s been gone. But as my daughter Brittany once told me, she, too, is fine on her own, but the fact is, her life is better with Andy (her husband) in it. And my life was better with David in it.

Our marriage wasn’t an obvious success story in the making, at the beginning, marrying at 20 (David was 26), just shy of six months after we met, but we shared a strong faith, and by the grace of God, we grew closer and closer over the years. There were certainly difficult times, even a few nearly hopeless times, but those are stories for another day. Here’s what I wish I’d known and done when I was in the middle of it.

First, I wish I’d realized how fleeting the days are, that the time is up way before you feel ready. I wish I had properly valued togetherness years earlier. Respecting the need for solitude, but coming back together regularly to share hopes, fears, dreams. Fortunately, we did eventually get that right. Once I overheard a group of couples, not long after David’s passing, joking about how annoying the retirement of a spouse would be, having the other always underfoot. “For life, but not for lunch,” was the joke. Maybe this was not reflecting real feelings, and certainly change can be difficult, but oh, I wanted to say – and maybe I did – Savor. Every. Moment.

Second, I wish I’d had enough confidence in myself to let David be David, to celebrate him as he was, to let him say what he wanted, to make whatever mistakes he was going to make, without feeling I had to correct him. So he was not always great with details. So he remembered or told a story differently than I would have. So what? No one cared. All my contradicting did was corrode our unity a bit every time it happened. It served no good purpose. I was only beginning to learn that, and then he was gone.

Finally, I wish I’d made it a personal goal to give more than I received – no small task with a grand giver like David – rather than so often keeping score, policing “fairness,” whatever that even means. My biggest regrets – and I don’t say that lightly – my most tormenting regrets, are every remembered moment of selfishness. Sometimes I watch International House Hunters on HGTV, where very often it’s a married couple who’s searching for lodging in a far-flung locale. I love the armchair travel, but it stabs me every time I see someone claiming, without a moment’s hesitation, the best closet or otherwise demanding his or her own way, especially those who proudly announce they always get what they want. I recognize myself too well in those words. By the grace of God, I was allowed to give back to David as his caretaker in his final sixteen months. Those may have been the best months of my life.

I have no doubt relationships in these COVID times are challenging, especially if solitude is hard to find. Admittedly, for at least twenty of our nearly forty years, we had space to spread out. For us the danger was going our own way, doing our own thing, without touching base. Even as recently as 2015, when we were newly back from our year of adventure, we slipped briefly into a pattern where we would spend our days working in separate rooms, then drift to other activities, without any time actually speaking to each other. Fortunately, wise man that he was, David soon suggested that every evening at 5 p.m., we grab our beverage of choice, and sit and talk. He would ask questions like, “What’s the best thing that happened to you this week?” or “What would you change about your life if you could?” or “What are you learning from God these days?” Sometimes we just played “Name That Tune” with the music on an oldies station and reminisced about days gone by. Being intentionally together was all that mattered, and what a relationship builder it was. I treasure the memories. His cancer was diagnosed late August 2016, and he was gone two days after Christmas 2017.

So, although I am no longer married, I wanted to share this bit of perspective with those who are. As you navigate this grand adventure together, I hope you savor every moment. I hope you celebrate each other and selflessly give to one another. I really don’t think you’ll regret it. God be with you.

All The Best

Full disclosure: the final wedding tasks were NOT completed in a calm and efficient manner, but most were eventually completed and Brittany and Andy are now married! Woo-hoo! So many people made this possible, we’re just beginning to try to communicate the magnitude of our gratitude.

On this, David’s birthday, where we remember him and miss him as much as ever, let’s focus for a minute on this grand cause for celebration. The colors they (Brittany?) chose — tropical blues and flaming sunset colors — were absolutely stunning. Here are a few early preview shots from the photographer, Mark Ducharme. 

Brittany’s bouquet – Photo by Mark R Ducharme Photography
Brittany’s shoes with wedding bands – Photo by Mark R Ducharme Photography
The wedding party – Photo by Mark R Ducharme Photography
Beckett appreciating one of the bouquets – Photo by Rachel Hazenfield

All the creative touches they wanted happened.

Sunstones they found on the trip where they got engaged, to share with all – Photo by Mark R Ducharme

Beckett found a girlfriend, Baby Ruth (photos by her dad, Craig Burke):

There were challenges, of course, since this is real life. Brittany and I had a few laughs navigating the rugged stone steps in high heels:

Brittany and Sunny – Photo by Mark R Ducharme

And Brittany ended up in the E.R. the next day for a while, but that’s a story for another day. The entire thing was absolutely beautiful and celebratory.

Brittany, Andy and Bega – Photo by Mark R Ducharme

Please join me in wishing them all the very best!

Ramping Up

I’m inaugurating a new category this month: Celebrations. Woo-hoo! The imminent major celebration is the wedding, of course, and plans and projects are ramping up to an increasingly stressful pace, but things are getting done.

Brittany, Andy and Bega at Sunapee 2020
Brittany and Andy – October 2020

Brittany has endured four of her six rounds of chemo and still has hair, although it is certainly thinner than usual, but at least she won’t have to wear a hot wig for her July wedding at Lake Sunapee. That is a big plus and we are all grateful. Even with her low-energy days and a long daily commute for Andy, they are still dreaming big. I try to help where I can.  I’m confident it will be a wonderful celebration, even in the midst of all the challenges and missing many we wish could be there with us. 

We also celebrated the enthusiasm of toddlers when we enjoyed the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery with Beckett over Memorial Day weekend.

At the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery – 29 May 2021

So much fun. As usual his attention span outlasted ours. 😉 

And I’m celebrating daily my diminishing responsibilities for helping the new owners of my business ramp up to complete independence from me. This has allowed me to ramp up my daily writing. I have a few projects in the works and have even submitted a few poems to various local contests, so we’ll see where that goes (if anywhere). A lot of writing is for the writer, but let’s be honest, writers also write to be read. 

In a few weeks, I’ll be headed to one of my favorite places on earth,

Sunrise over Lake Sunapee – 2015
Lake Sunapee Dawn
Chelsea, Brian, Courtney, Brittany on the Megalodon — Felicity seeing them off — July 2019

where final wedding preparations will be handled calmly and efficiently (hahaha, just kidding, but we can dream). Whatever gets done or gets left undone, they should be married by about 5:00 p.m. July 24th, so the end is in sight. As I know I’ve mentioned somewhere in these posts, David and I had the lamest wedding in the history of the world, but it got the job done and the marriage was increasingly amazing with the passing years. So however the day goes, that is what I hope for Brittany and Andy. And you, too, if you are married or about to be. Can’t wait to ramp up the celebrating!

Here’s wishing (and hoping and praying) for a bright future for us all! 

Deep Green

It absolutely poured rain all day yesterday and there’s been a damp chill in the air that has had me wearing a puffer jacket . . . even INSIDE. On the plus side things are still fabulously green . . .

Okay, this is New Hampshire, but still

. . . and I know here in Colorado they won’t stay that way for many more weeks.  Even with all the rain this weekend, so far scuba gear is not required, but here are a few “undersea” photos (taken at the Aquarium in La Rochelle) . . . . . . to get you in the right mindset for my newest poem, ostensibly about scuba diving, but really also about life. The best way to read it is to pause slightly at the end of each line, as if you were breathing through a regulator and descending slowly into the deep. 

Buoyancy

The trick
is to maintain
neutral buoyancy,
to avoid panic –
breathing slowly,
moving hardly at all,
except the slow beat
of fins and occasional
tranquil glance at gauges -
intrepid explorer

of another world,
tasting the tang
of salt like tears,
while all manner of things
approach
and slip by
or hide,
peering out
like old women
from behind lace curtains.
In the beginning

I needed a hand
to hold, a steadying hand
to tell me without words
I was not
lost in the deep –
I would not be lost,
as if anyone
can promise that.
Soon, though,
the color

grabs me
and movement
like a ballet
set to the whooshing
pulse of breathing
in and out,
bubbles like crystal
balls rising
to the brightness above.

There is danger
in ascending
and descending, both –
rising too quickly
as the pressure mounts,
falling unnoticed,
slipping into the abyss.

It is not optional
to know where you are.

The trick
is to stay calm
and keep breathing.

I hope that provided a calming break in your day. It’s been an emotional weekend here.  Courtney came out from Minnesota for the long weekend and Doug also took advantage of the holiday to come meet Beckett, so we decided to inter David’s ashes this past Friday afternoon while everyone was here. He’s been gone nearly three and a half years, but it was still a difficult step on the wretched grief road, as you may imagine.

September 2016 – Photo by Clayton Jenkins

Then we adjourned to my house for toasts, memories and togetherness (since we’re all vaccinated), sorely needed after all the COVID isolation.  Doug brought us a bottle from Colene Clemens Vineyards, one of our favorite Oregon wine-tasting destinations. 

Doug, Brittany, Courtney and Chelsea at Colene Clemens Winery

And of course there was cognac.

Meanwhile, a few other dear ones (deliberately vague to respect privacy) are facing medical challenges, some quite daunting, and Brittany is heading into chemo round three in a few days, so a bit of color therapy and calm, slow breathing seemed in order. I find it works even better when prayer and meditation are added to the mix. 

But whatever you do, please keep breathing!

Adventures in Wanderlust