Author’s Note: A version of this post originally appeared on the CaringBridge journal I wrote for my mom. It has been added to, updated, and revised.
My parents were married on September 1, 1979 at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Washington, IL. They would be celebrating 37 years of for better or worse, in sickness and in health tomorrow. They met at Western Illinois University and my dad proposed at a Dairy Queen a few years later. He’s lucky social media didn’t exist back then or his proposal would have looked lame compared to the elaborate gestures people make these days! I justify my ice cream obsession as a “family tradition.”
I’m sure two 23-year-olds couldn’t imagine the trials, tribulations, and triumphs that life’s journey would bring them through. They went through the good, the bad, and the ugly in life hand in hand with each other, and it doesn’t get much uglier than cancer. Cancer can have a way of reminding you of all of the many blessings in your life, and in my case, my parents showed me a beautiful example of what marriage looks like long after the celebration of a wedding.
Love is sharing the dessert you wanted to eat all by yourself. Love is tracking down wherever my mom happened to forget her purse (which sometimes involved multi-hour drives). Love is sitting through yet another Nicholas Sparks movie, even though it is no different from the one your wife dragged you to a year ago. Love is my mom plucking my dad’s nose hairs for him. Ever since I was a young child, I thought this was the greatest testament of true love. (Sorry dad, had to leave that one in). Love is weathering the storms of disagreements, moves, job changes, and all of the uncertainty and confusion life throws your way.
In sickness and in health is not just something you include in your vows because everyone does it or it sounds good. Love is sitting in waiting room after waiting room, testing room after testing room, doctor’s office after doctor’s office. Love was working long hours to ensure you can be at appointments. Love was jumping into action without hesitation when the nausea kicks in. Love is assuring someone they wouldn’t have to face this ugly monster alone. Love is putting someone else’s needs in front of your own without thinking twice. Love is making each other laugh in the mist of this chaos. Love is mustering up every ounce of strength because sometimes you have to be strong when the other person is weak. A band named Death Cab for Cutie has lyrics that say “love is watching someone die.” Death Cab for Cutie has never been known for their upbeat and uplifting lyrics, but this one hits so close to home. Early in our hospital stay, my dad and I would take turns spending the night on a cot in my mom’s room. As the hospital stay grew longer and we transitioned to hospice, my dad stayed by her side every night, up until her last breath.
I have had the privilege of being the daughter of two incredible, kind, patient, forgiving, and selfless individuals who worked hard to create such a special bond with each other and live their vows day in and day out through all of the seasons of life. It was an honor to be able to witness that love for almost 25 years of my life. For the past year, I have been able to watch my dad carry the love he shared with my mom in a special place in his heart.
There truly is not a moment that goes by that I don’t wish my mom was a phone call away. I wish I could call her up and tell her my thoughts and fears and worries. I wish I could tell her when I had a great day or confide in her when things get hard. I wish she could remind me to laugh at really terrible dates, get me through break-ups, and remind me that nothing good gets away. I wish I could tell her about a really fantastic date. It overwhelms my heart to know that someday, way down the road, she won’t be able to be the first person I call when I decide to face the good and the bad in life with someone. I wish she was around to help guide me through that decision. What I do take comfort in is that I got to witness a beautiful example of what a lasting relationship looks like. I remember a late night conversation with her a few years ago. I was convinced that I loved my independence too much to ever truly allow someone in. I wanted to make sure I never needed anyone but myself. I asked my mom, who raised me to be so independent by example, how she made it work with my dad. She told me that love works best when each person puts the other’s needs and happiness ahead of their own. Then each person is taken care of by the other and everyone’s needs are met. She said when it’s with the right person, I’ll be able to do it. Those words have always stuck with me.
Although their time together was cut too short, they shared more love and laughter in their time together than most people could ever dream of. I am forever grateful that Mama and Papa G are the ones who showed me what love is, and it all happened because two people said “I do” to putting someone else first on the First of September, 37 years ago.