Brittany and Andy have now been married just over a month, so marriage is on my mind.
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.
But I am still profoundly grateful for all the years we had together.
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 . . . .
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.