I wrote this in February of 2010, during the time I was working on my true love story chronicling David’s journey through cancer and the revitalization of our marriage:
“100% of marriages end.”
This is a line from “Marriages and Other Acts of Charity,” by Kate Braestrup, a book I highly recommend for anyone who likes to read about relationships.
Don’t you love it when a line or paragraph jumps out at you from a really good book? In fact, I am quick to judge a book as “good” precisely because of those moments.
100% of marriages end. 100% of relationships end.
This is, of course, a truth we don’t often ponder. My marriage will end at some point, despite my best attempts to stay married. One of us will die, eventually. One of us will lose the other. Even if we were to die together, our marriage is, in the words of the Bible and our vows ‘till death do us part.’
My book is not really a story of David’s illness; his cancer story and my caregiving one. On the surface, it seems to be just that, but the reader who finishes my book will set it aside and think about their marriage relationship, not cancer.
What sentence will jump out at them? What paragraph will they think about when they set my book aside? Will it be the horrifying details of an invasive surgery, or will it be the moment when I take David’s hand in mine and plead, “Make it mean something.”
“100% of marriages end,” Kate Braestrup writes.
I feel as though I’ve just gotten started loving David the right way. Let mine not end for a long time.
My marriage ended two years later, on March 27, 2012, and I continue to struggle with that fact. In his wonderful book, Reflections of a Grieving Spouse, H. Norman Wright reiterates that it is the “without” that is the most difficult for us; I will continue down the path of writing and speaking that God has set me on, without David by my side. I will see sons and daughters get married, without David. I will watch grandchildren be born, without David. It isn’t just those “big” things I will be doing alone, it is all the little things; I will go to church, the grocery store, and thrift stores, without David. Go to garage sales, without David. Do the dishes, hang out laundry, go to the library, watch television, check the oil, change the toilet paper roll, take out the garbage, and go on bike rides, all without David. Things we did together, or those he always did that I must now do, are daily and constant reminders of my loss.
“Then one day you’re alone. Your life partner is gone and the words ‘till death do you part’ have become reality. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s come true. It’s one thing to say the words, to know they’re part of the commitment, to perhaps remember them occasionally, but it’s another to experience their reality. It’s so final. It leaves you alone. You have a sense of isolation. It’s a feeling of separation.” (Page 122, Reflections of a Grieving Spouse)
When will loss be less of my day, I wonder. I have felt it keenly the past two days, even as I’ve kept myself busy preparing for a writing workshop I am conducting this weekend. Could it be the approaching holiday that sharpens the pain? Last year I mourned the loss of my mother on Mother’s Day. This year, I mourn the spouse that always made certain the day was special for me.
“What do you want for Mother’s Day?” he would ask, and inevitably, with eight children and little time to myself, my answer was “Time alone to write.” He gave me that each year; my “Mom’s Morning Out,” but he’d also add a small box of caramels, a gift certificate for a restaurant or a hair appointment. I faced a Mother’s Day without a mother. Now I must face it without the man who loved me.
Yes, I believe that accounts for my increasing sadness; a Mother’s Day “without.”
So, just as it seemed appropriate last year to visit my mother’s gravesite with my siblings on Mother’s Day, this year it will be a picnic at the old homestead where I grew up, now owned by my son Michael.
But with our eight children.