A (Real) Love Story
Although it is no longer Valentine's Day, the story of my parent’s love and their 59 year marriage is worthy of sharing. We associate love with cupids and frilly lace hearts, love songs and long, meaningful staring into each other’s eyes but what really constitutes true love? What does it take to make that dreamy “in love” stage transform into a lifelong commitment?
Unlike most sappy sweet love stories, my parent’s love was more like a mystery. At least to their children; we never quite understood how the two of them got together and why it lasted. In fact, when I was young and didn’t understand the intricacies of marriage, I really thought they should get a divorce. Not the typical beginning for a love story.
They met when my mother, a beautiful hometown beauty queen, was 24 and my father, long and lean but already balding and with big ears that stood out, was 39. My mother was a teacher in a one room schoolhouse in Kansas and my father was a civil engineer. Four months after they met, they became husband and wife, my mother still calling him Mr. Morrow on their wedding day. They barely knew each other but in an act of faith and/or passion, they vowed to love each other forever. In a brand new Packard, they set off for a honeymoon in New Mexico and a life together. It wasn’t an easy path for them but then again, few marriages or lives are completely smooth sailing. They had several moves, four children (including a handicapped child), financial stresses and many strong and vocal differences of opinion. They fought with a passion that was upsetting from a child’s point of view. However, they apparently also made up with a passion, a fact my mother briefly alluded to when I was an adult (no one is ever old enough to hear THAT about their parents!).
My Mom said she was initially attracted to my Dad because of the way he dressed, in beautiful suits and ties, and the fact he drove a brand new flashy car. Fortunately, that initial superficial attraction deepened and they developed bonds of faith, friends and family. When I questioned her about their tumultuous relationship, she seemed surprised and said they were in love, fully committed to making their marriage work and furthermore, divorce had never even entered her mind.
I never understood how deeply my parents loved one another until I watched my mother take care of my father for the last several years of his life. He was in his early 90s when the first signs of dementia began appearing. One night she awakened to find his side of the bed empty, my father snugly ensconced in the guest bedroom. When she questioned him, he replied that he wasn’t sure who she was but he knew they weren’t married and he didn’t sleep with people he wasn’t married to! She spent the next hour showing him their wedding album, her heart breaking, trying to convince him they were indeed married. That night was the beginning of many tough days and even more difficult nights as she took care of him, determined to keep him at home. I would never have thought my mother had it in her, to patiently answer his repetitive questions, to constantly be on vigil to keep him safe, to take care of personal needs that no one dreams they will be doing for their partner. From my viewpoint, she sacrificed her life for many years to take care of him at home almost completely on her own. I visited every day and tried to help in some way, giving her a short break or running errands but the enormity of the task fell on her shoulders. From her perspective, this was a part of her commitment to love and cherish, to take care of each other in sickness and health.
As his dementia progressed, he began falling out of bed more often. My husband would frequently go over in the middle of the night and lift him back in bed but for his safety, it became obvious a hospital bed with side rails was necessary. The night before it was to be delivered, my mother said she lay there feeling sad that it would be their last night to sleep together. They always fell asleep next to one another, holding hands, but the hospital bed would make their nightly ritual impossible. At three that morning, I received a phone call from my mother asking me to please come over, my father was dead. He had aspired to reach the age of 100 like his father, but at 98 he died very peacefully. My mother said the absence of his soul had wakened her. As the funeral home took his body away, she stood in the driveway crying, saying she wasn’t ready to let him go, 59 years together wasn’t enough.
My parent’s love story would never make it to the Hollywood screen or even a Hallmark card, it was all too real. Memories of watching my parents dance in the living room and kiss in the kitchen are accompanied by memories of rough times and heated disagreements. Love and commitment always prevailed. Trying to comfort my mother in the moment they put my father’s body in the funeral hearse, seeing her devastation that the love of her life was gone, I finally grasped the unfathomable depths of devotion they shared. Marriage isn’t only long walks on the beach and staring onto each other’s eyes. Love is about sticking it out when it’s tough, always having your partner’s back and committing to the long haul. Although I’m a sucker for love songs, mushy cards and heart shaped boxes of candy, I’ll trade it all to sincerely feel that 59 years just isn’t enough. We should all be so lucky!