Thursday, July 25, 2013
Happily Ever After
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.
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?
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?