When I was a child, I never thought much about marriage. My parents were married, and so were the parents of all of my friends. Back then, marriage meant that you spent your lives together - forever. You raised a family. You argued, you fought, you got over it. But you never left. Marriage meant staying.
They did whatever they had to do to repair the damages, mend the holes, shore up the foundation, and they stayed married. Sure, they fought. My dad would retreat to the basement while my mom would do the dishes - loudly. Wandering to the top of the stairs every now and then with a shout of, "And another thing....." which went largely ignored by my father. They battled alcoholism, sickness, financial problems, in-law problems, death, and more. But they stayed.
My husband and I recently attended a marriage renewal event at our church, and the speaker was talking about the idea of commitment in marriage - he showed a film clip from "A Beautiful Mind" to illustrate the idea of being committed to a marriage "no matter what." For the past week, my husband has tossed those words at me a few times in jest. "Remember, honey - no matter what" he says after a spat.
But the idea of staying - the idea of "no matter what" is exactly what marriage is about. It isn't, as the speaker told us, "as long as." I don't love you, as long as you don't make me mad, or as long as you do what I want you to do, or as long as you don't get sick. I love you, no matter what. That is marriage. And it's what my parents had.
This idea of "no matter what" was brought so quickly to my mind when I remembered my grandmother & grandfather, we called them Nana and Boppie.
Nana had become senile, and was unable to do much for herself. Boppie was still sharp, but he couldn't take care of Nana anymore. She had to go into a nursing home, and he went with her.
At the time, I didn't think much of it because, that's what I thought grandpas were supposed to do - they were supposed to stay with grandmas and take care of them. Today, I look back, and I think of what a huge committment that was for him.
He was sharp as a tack, and knew exactly what was going on around him. He couldn't move too fast because of arthritis. He couldn't see too well because of macular degeneration. He couldn't hear too well, and the hearing aids were only so useful at that time. But his mind was as sound and as lucid as it ever was. And at 96 years old, he went with her into the nursing home.
I cannot imagine the horror of those years in the nursing home for him. His wife stopped recognizing him, and called him that "nice man" who helped her. He made no decisions for himself. Was unable to really do anything. But everyday he helped his wife get dressed, helped her eat, and put on her face cream -- face "food" he always called it. He made sure she was bathed and safely put to bed.
Did he know, when he said "I DO" on that day back in 1929, that the final days of his life would be spent in a nursing home? Could he have ever imagined the lengths he would go to to make sure his wife was safe, taken care of and loved? Even when she no longer knew who he was? That is what marriage is. I am staying. I love you ... no matter what.
Boppie died on a cold December day in 1989. When we went back to the nursing home to see her, Nana was suddenly lucid for the first time in years, and it was a joy to spend time with her and have her recognize us again. But even in death, Boppie took care of her. She died 9 days later in January of 1990. He came back to bring her home.