On a beautiful fall day 10 years ago, my husband and I vowed to stand by each other in sickness and in health. It was easy to say those words. It’s much harder to live them.
I was in my 20s when we married. The “in sickness” portion of our marriage seemed decades away. It wasn’t.
This last year has challenged the mettle of our marriage and has forced me to live up to my vows. It was a task I was woefully unprepared for and honestly not well-suited to do. Anyone who knows me will tell you; I’m not much of a nurturer.
But, here’s the thing about marriage, it doesn’t really care what comes naturally to you. It’s not a vow to do what is easy; it’s a vow to do what is needed. I had an amazing example of that lesson growing up.
My grandparents were married in 1942 and remained married for 67 years. They had a very traditional marriage. My grandfather worked for 48 years in a blue-collar job and my grandmother raised seven children.
She tended an enormous garden that fed the family, she cooked and baked, she cleaned and mended her family’s clothes. She did laundry with a clothes wringer for as long as I can remember.
Then, in 2000, she started showing signs of Alzheimer’s. It wasn’t a surprise; it runs in the family. It was, however, a challenge. The caregiver of the family had become the one in need of caretaking.
It is only recently that I’ve come to understand the tremendous act of love that came next.
For the next seven years, my grandfather cared for my grandmother at home. He gardened, he cooked, he cleaned. He had help from the rest of the family. But, ultimately, my blue-collar grandfather became his wife’s caregiver. The bread earner became the bread maker.
Eventually, her physical needs and his advancing age made it impossible for him to care for her at home. In 2007, she moved into a nursing home and spent the remaining two years of her life there. Every single day my grandfather drove to the home and spent hours reading to her and eating meals with her. While he stopped seeing to her physical needs, he continued to take such sweet care of her.
As we near Valentine’s Day, my grandparents’ type of love is the love to which I aspire. It isn’t flashy and nobody is going to make a Hallmark movie about it. It is a love that is steady and sweet. One that changes and evolves. And one that makes good on the early promises to have and to hold, even when it’s not easy.