Thursday, July 25, 2013

Happily Ever After

On June 27th, my parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. On July 20th, family came from all across the U.S. to throw them a 60th anniversary party. It took a full year of planning to find  a date when we could all coordinate vacations, money, and time to get together in one place. My parents had 9 children, and then took in a 10th when her mother died. So, in addition to all the siblings, there are grandchildren and great grandchildren. There were cousins and aunts and uncles and extended family from all over who descended on Salem, Oregon. And celebrating with us were also my parent's friends from the Senior Center and bowling league and their water aerobics class. It was an amazing time.

As a romance writer, my stories are about the beginning of relationships. That time when everything is new and you are working through your past and your present, hoping for an amazing future. When I end a book with a wedding, or a marriage proposal, in my mind I see those characters living truly "happily ever after."  But I must admit, the thought of 60 years of marriage is so far away from my character's beginning relationship that it doesn't cross my mind. I've never written an epilogue that says "60 years later." The beginning is easy to write about because everything is new. Everything is exciting and sexy and the future seems endless.

After the characters have been married for some time, when the newness is long gone, when they realize that they are now in the day-to-day living of their lives, how do they stay together? How do you stay together when you realize that you will never change this person to be your ideal prince charming? When you learn that he snores and will probably never learn to waltz? Or you learn that she really never loved football but just watched games to be with you? Or that her favorite thing to do is to read books instead of watch TV with you? Or her family is smothering? Or his mother is trying to control every part of your life including naming your children?

How do you stay together when a child dies and the grief is so overwhelming that you are not sure it will ever leave you alone and when you look at each other, you see that child in the other person? How do you stay together when a man has built his entire career in an industry and then learns the guys at the top are corrupt, and in turning them in and putting them in jail, he is still the one to lose his job? How do you not blame each other, or yourself, when a child makes poor decisions around drugs? marriage? pregnancy? giving up children? How do you keep a sense of hope and joy when your body gets crickety and your eyes don't work and you take more pills to keep you alive every day? How to you keep a sense of yourself and your relationship when the world is changing so fast you don't recognize it anymore?

All of these are reasons people leave each other. Just look at the divorce rate.  Death.  Economics. Depression. Just simply giving up because "it wasn't what I expected it to be."  What does it take to stay together for 60 years? Sure they love each other. That's the first thing. But many marriages break up even when they still love each other. So, how do you continue to love each other and make your relationship grow, and you can honestly say you are happy with your choice?

After stories were shared about our childhood memories, and the many positive impacts my parents have had on all the people around them, I asked what was their secret of staying together for over 60 years. They'd had nine children and three miscarriages. They'd suffered the death of two of those children, and countless medical and financial difficulties both for themselves and for various children. My father lost a job after 16 years with the same company. My mother almost died of blood poisoning in her leg when she was pregnant with twins and later in life when she had a heart attack. Yet, my memory of them is a relationship that was mostly happy and always in love. Surely I knew when things were bad for our family, and definitely when they were sad and difficult. But bad/sad things never took over our lives. They were things that happened and then we moved on with hope for the future and joy for the present.

My  mother stood up to answer my question, and this is what she said:

We believed in our vows, through sickness and health. Of course, it helped that during several years  I worked nights and John worked days. We couldn't afford a babysitter, so that's what we had to do.(insert audience laughter here and a comment about how that didn't change their sex life because they continued to have children) We wanted lots of kids. Then we had these kids to take care of and...well...we didn't believe in welfare or giving up. We never expected someone else to take care of us or make things better. We just kept going, getting up every morning and doing what we had to do. That's all there was. We just kept going, and here we are. (big smile)

All I can say is Wow!  So simple and yet profound. How many times have I said to myself, this is just too hard and given up?  How many times have I given up because I wasn't willing to put in the work? How many times did I make life more difficult for myself because I was too focused on tomorrow instead of what I had to accomplish today? How many times did I give up because things were not the way I expected and I just couldn't see a way to make them become what I expected?

Definitely a lesson for everything in life. Just keep going. There is no other choice. You make your own way. You make your own choices. Sometimes, simply putting one foot in front of the other is all you can do, and that's okay.

I hope for all of us to see 60 years with someone who shares life with us on a daily basis.  For some of us, who found our partners late in life or went through first marriages that ended through death or divorce, it means we will need to live past a hundred to make it.  For my husband and I, it means we will be 116 and 118 years old on our 60th wedding anniversary. But I'm willing to try. I want to see what it's like. I want to see what I learn. I want to be able to say, "We just kept going, and along the way we did our best to enjoy it, and here we are." How about you?


Paty Jager said...

Wow! What a great statement and sticktuitiveness(not a word). I agree, in this throw away world too many don't fight hard enough to stay in a marriage. I've been married to my husband for 34 years and we'll be 80 when we reach our 60th. My grandparents, both sets, made it to 75 years! I've never figured out how the one set stayed together that long. They fought, she nagged, he ignored but they remained together until he passed away.

Great post and words from your mom.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Paty, and congrats on your own long marriage. I think you are right, people often don't fight hard enough to stay in a marriage. I know my parents have been through a lot of heartache in life, but none of it because of their relationship with each other (at least that I know). When tough times came, they pulled together instead of apart and stood as bulwarks against the tide. I do feel fortunate to have them as an example.

terri patrick said...

Wonderful story and such simple and profound advice. That's the same for my parents. They believed in their vows. They never expected to be taken care of, and they kept going with the expectation and awareness that it was more fun to keep going together, than alone.

Congrats to your parents, and Thanks for Sharing!

Danita Cahill said...

Beautiful post, Maggie!