You may have noticed that this blog has been pretty quiet lately. Ever since December 9, I’ve been searching for words…and peace, honestly. You see, that Sunday morning, my mother passed away unexpectedly. It’s pretty tough to offer insights about marriage when your greatest example of lasting relationship suddenly vanishes. My folks were married for 45 years, and I learned almost everything I know from watching them. I watched them talk and argue and encourage and dream and explore and grow. Together. When people ask why I believe in the power of relationships and commitment, my folks are one very big reason.
I cried a lot that week. I wept so hard and so long that my stomach began to ache and my sides began to hurt. Mom left this gaping hole in our life, and there’s really no filling it. We’ll build around it. We’ll rise above it. We’ll stare into it occasionally. But we will have to find a new normal. Because the old normal will never return.
At some point, I started writing her letters, and Dad started writing her letters too. It’s a coping mechanism and a farewell all at once, I suppose. One of those letters captures what I learned from Mom and Dad pretty well, so I’m sharing it below. This is what 45 years of marriage looks like, I think…at least, it’s what their 45 years of marriage looked like. After reading Dad’s note, a colleague of mine said, “When I read that letter, I couldn’t help but think about my own life, my own relationships – it made me think about the kind of relationship I will always aspire to have. If it could do that much for me, I can’t imagine the impact your parents’ marriage and love has had on you, and will have on Maggie and Sam. I am so sorry for your loss, but I hope you can find comfort in the fact that your father’s message of love to your mother made many people who never had the chance to meet her think, ‘I want what she had.’”
I hope Dad’s note impacts you also; I know their marriage continues to impact me everyday.
My Dearest Darlene,
You caught my eye some 45 years ago on the day I cleaned your car windows at the Enco gas station in the Chicago suburb of Maywood, IL. I admit that I thought you were a very beautiful woman, but what really caused me to take that second look and then ask the owner to introduce me to you was your unbelievable smile. I know you always worried that your smile was a bit too big and especially when your one crown would show. Not me, I actually loved to see that crown peeking out.
It was not long before I realized that your smile was not something someone taught you how to do, but rather a smile that came all the way from your heart that not only showed up on your pretty face but completely consumed every part of you. Everyone we met fell in love with the woman with a winning personality and a huge heart matched only by the size of her smile.
I remember the day we were getting ready to go someplace and you could not stop crying for what you said was for no reason other than that you were very pregnant with our second child. That’s when I decided I was going to take your picture which you protested but soon just gave in and started to smile. There you were, tears running down both cheeks and a big smile besides.
Thanks for believing in me. I could not understand why a beautiful college educated Wheaton big city girl would take me to see her parents, let alone agree to marry a country boy from a dairy farm who could not even pronounce his words correctly. But you did and you did so with pride and including meeting with all your other relatives who seemed to me to be so accomplished. Then the time came when I realized I needed more education but was afraid to try as I had not been much of a student in high school. You had gotten straight A’s whereas I just got by. It was only because of your confidence in me that I eventually tried and then to my surprise learned that I too could get A’s.
At work, they used to tease me that the only reason I was married to you was because you met me at the state hospital and felt sorry for me. Of course, I knew they were only teasing, but it made me pretty pleased because I knew what they were really saying. What they were saying was that they felt I was one lucky man to be married to such a wonderful woman. How true, and thanks for everything from believing in me to being such a great Mom to our children and Grandmother to the grandkids.
I will miss having you next to me in the mornings while you journal and read God’s word before we prayed together. Also, I am sure I will have to do a lot of apologizing to others because you will not be there to caution me. You helped me be a better man of God with your example that I hope to be able to remember until we meet again.
I have no idea how I will get by without you at my side, but I will do my best to make you proud. Our 45 years together went by to quickly and I already want to just hold your hand one more time. Mostly, I want to have you look at me with those loving eyes that told me how much you loved me and believed in me. You know, that farm boy who’s still not sure how to dress or what to say. Whenever I think of you it will always include remembering that big, big smile that made me take that second look so many years ago.
Love you and see you soon,
Your loving husband and best friend