The most wondrous of all human relationships to me is that between wife and husband, man and woman.
Marriage was the biggest gamble I’ve ever made. I didn’t get it right the first time, in spite of the 20 years my first partner and I gave it. After annulment, I took the risk again, and remarried, as he himself did.
Chastened, not to mention lucky this second time, I was readier to faithfully honor my vows—to love and cherish, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death, which just about covers all the circumstances of life.
It does take a lifetime to really get to know your spouse, accept him as he is and still genuinely like him. What makes me feel more confident now is a mutual predisposition to contribute to each other’s growth, and I actually like what I’m becoming.
What seems to me a great reward as well as challenge of marriage is learning about maleness at the closest range. In my case, however opposite it may be to my nature, it never stops being a delightful mystery. And here’s how basically it works for me: I give him the freedom to be himself and, in return, he ends up giving me much more.
Amaze and admire
After nearly 30 years together—longer unofficially than officially—we still amaze and admire each other. Some of the talents of his I truly enjoy and virtues I cherish, I have only discovered in marriage. It helps, of course, that we share moral and spiritual values, political inclinations and attitudes toward money. All in all, I’m proud and pleased with myself, and to think I plunged into it mostly on instincts! But, like all the others, we’ve had our trials.
Still, few have been tested to the same degree as our dear friend Annabel, who passed with flying colors, but wouldn’t take any medals for the plain reason that one goes into marriage with no reservations whatsoever: “It’s a commitment.”
Through the two years her husband, Tom, battled cancer, she spared no resources, energy or time in keeping that commitment. It was touching and amazing to see her bring her three sons and the whole household to work together for Tom.
A brother and a sister of Tom’s who traveled from the United States had themselves only praises for Annabel for staying positive and accessible to Tom no matter how difficult he became sometimes because of frustrations with himself related to his illness.
To all this, Annabel simply smiled and jokingly added, “Do I have a choice?” To which Tom’s younger brother Andy vigorously replied, “Oh yes, you do!”
But Annabel would hear no more. She silenced everyone with incontrovertible words: “For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.”
Indeed, she’s proud and at peace with herself, having done everything possible for Tom. Still, it wasn’t easy for her to finally let him go. “I knew it would eventually happen, but I didn’t think it would come so soon.”
It was perfectly timed, in fact. He went peacefully, in the presence of a priest, his medical attendants and his family, in his own home, and just two days before Andy and their baby sister Mary Jo were to fly back to the United States, allowing them to be at his wake and funeral—a generous celebration of life, just as Tom would have liked it.
Another friend is going through a similarly difficult situation. Her husband is exhibiting symptoms of the first stages of dementia, but otherwise relatively healthy. His blood works and pressure are in fact better than hers. She finds some consolation in that he constantly asks for her, although at times, he does not recognize her. She says it’s very painful when that happens, but what can she do about it?
He is, however, well enough to travel with two attendants just for him. She welcomes the time to be with him and some of their children and grandchildren on their yearly pilgrimage to Lourdes, among other places.
At a recent lunch she hosted for four widows and four wives with holdout husbands, her own husband, who is eight years older, is the only one going through dementia. One of the four non-widows wished out loud she’d go ahead of her husband, dreading the thought of life without him. Our hostess immediately expressed in no uncertain terms she’d prefer the opposite: “Men, at whatever age, will surely remarry, creating problems for the children. Women cope better with widowhood. I still go to the office.”
If it’s true women outlive men by six years, Vergel and I can hope for a joint departure. But, while there’s still time and many places yet to see together, we’ll keep taking breaks from everything—including politics.
In these autumn years, our marriage is top priority. Anyway, every time we get away, we are humbled by the realization—unlike in a marriage where we play vital roles—that so little of what happens outside actually depends on us.