Weddings are momentous occasions. Two people begin their lives together. Sacred vows are shared before a community of loved ones and friends. A commitment is made to honor and care for one another for a lifetime: through sickness or health, for richer or poorer.
Big Papa and I said our vows to each other merely three years ago. At 48, and marrying for the first time, I could hardly be described as young or naïve. I’d been around the block enough times to know that life can throw some serious curveballs that test one’s mettle much less a relationship.
I’d seen my own parents’ marriage dissolve amidst larger-than-life crises: a husband paralyzed by a stroke and a daughter who had cancer twice as a child. Even the best of relationships sometimes break under strain.
Yet I also knew relationships that withstood gale force winds and came through on the other side even stronger than before. So as we prepared for our wedding, we chose two couples, whose relationship we admired, to say a few words and offer wisdom that we could draw on when times got tough.
I asked my closest childhood friend, Dee, and her husband Gaylen. They had been married nineteen years and Dee had been through a first bout and now a recurrence of breast cancer. Big Papa asked Bill and Pat, whom he’d known for six years. Bill had served on the same WWII ship that Big Papa’s father also served on. Bill and Pat had been married for 63 years.
As it turned out, neither couple was able to be there with us as we said “I do.” Dee and Pat were each struggling with illness and a cross-country trip was out of the question. But, they were there with us in spirit.
Shortly after they each called to let us know they’d be absent, a package arrived from Dee. In it, was a small antique pin that Dee’s mother had given her. Dee told me she wanted me to have it to wear on my wedding day.
A few weeks later we received two letters, first one from Pat and then one from Bill. Pat shared letters with us that she’d written to Bill over the years: one from the days when he was away at sea and she was waiting for him to return and another where she wrote to Bill describing some of the challenges they’d been through together over their many years of marriage and how they’d managed to overcome them. Bill’s letter offered wisdom and support, along with a few tips of things he and Pat had done over the years to ‘hold tight’ when their spirits sagged.
On the night before we got married, Dee called me to personally relay her best wishes and ask if she could send an email with a note she and Gaylen had written for us to read during our ceremony. Big Papa and I gathered up these words from our friends to share with each other and our guests on our wedding day.
And what a day it was! We’d already managed to find a new location to hold our ceremony when our original site canceled some six months before. A second B&B was lined up for our first night together as a married couple when the B&B where we’d intended to stay announced they were going out of business, just two months before our day. But when our officiant called Big Papa to say she wouldn’t be there to pronounce us man and wife just three hours before the ceremony…well, you can imagine that we were already putting the “through good times and bad” to the test.
It’s fair to say that in the process of getting married, we ran into a few catastrophes. And yet, miracles happened too, not the least of which was that a post, “Urgent! Officiant needed!” placed on IslandMoms, an internet chat group, turned up Debbi, the just-right-for-us officiant who made it to lovely Morgan Hill Retreat with minutes to spare. Lo and behold Big Papa and I became Mr. and Mrs.
Three years later we’ve experienced our share of trials and tribulations. We moved my elderly disabled father across the country two months before our wedding and overseeing his care (and him) has not been easy. Our adoption journey has been the source of many spirited and dispirited moments along with some pretty significant stress. My dear friend Dee passed away as did my beloved, nearly 18-year-old cat, Madison. We powered through a home remodel where we lived in one room and didn’t have a shower for four months. Our car was totaled in front of our house. And yes, like most couples, we’ve had your typical run-of-the-mill arguments.
In equal measure, we can lay claim to hours of sheer joy and days filled with playfulness, wonder and deep abiding love. Adventures to beautiful places both near and far have been ours: Tibet, Armenia, Willamette Valley and the California coast. Our home, the Urban Cabin, is now filled with light and a peaceful green oasis greets us outside our back door. We have enjoyed many amazing meals – some with food grown by our two hands and wine discovered on trips through the Pacific Northwest. Our understanding of ourselves and each other has improved by leaps and bounds and together we’ve tackled challenges and worked toward achieving our dreams.
Isn’t this what relationships, marriage – and life – are all about? You take the highs with the lows and the good with the bad. Things don’t always go the way you expect or happen in the time frame you might want. Then again, sometimes they do. “Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”
Truly, it’s the marriage, not the wedding that that those vows are really all about: the day in and day out meandering along in the world, looking out towards the future, remembering the past and enjoying the here and now.
I can almost hear Bill encouraging us to hold hands each night and try not to go to sleep angry with each other. I can see the images described in Pat’s letter: how sweet Bill is when he brings her coffee first thing each morning and how he stood by her during a long bout of depression.
Last night Big Papa and I sat together on the antique park bench we bought in honor of our third anniversary. I nestled my head against his shoulder and remembered a story Dee told me about being stuck with Gaylen inside their home for several days during a long snowstorm. Sitting next to each other on the sofa, she said, “It’s a good thing we like each other.”
When we exchanged marriage vows, I hoped that – on the balance – “health” would outweigh “sickness” and “good” would be more prevalent than “bad.” I still do. But no matter where the road may take us, I believe in the vows we said to each other and I believe in us.
…It will not always be smooth sailing; your relationship will be challenged. But in our experience, the process of weathering these storms will only serve to deepen and enrich the feelings that originally brought you together.
~excerpt from Dee and Gaylen’s wedding blessing
Happy Anniversary Big Papa! How lucky am I to travel through time with you by my side.