Jeannette had died a peaceful death after years of suffering, the extent of which I am sure was only known to Jeannette, her husband, Fred, and God. Fred and Jeannette were high school sweethearts. They had been married 55 years. She was “his gal” as Fred would put it. Now, deep in thought, he stood beside the bed still holding the hand of his lifelong partner who had breathed her last.
“You were so good to her,” I told him. “I’m not sure I have ever known a man who took better care of his wife, who did what you did for her.” He smiled with eyes still filled with tears.
“You know,” he spoke quietly, “I never thought of it being this way when I walked down the aisle 55 years ago. But this is part of it, too.” Now stroking her forehead he continued, “I used to think taking care of our three girls, changing their diapers, was hard. But, of course, that was nothing — we had such a good life. I’m glad for what we had.”
Words could not form on my lips. I knew all too well what Fred had done for Jeannette these last few years, physically, emotionally and spiritually. And he had done it without a complaint.
Rather, there was a real sense of joy that he could be there for her. He had not approached this illness with resentment or calculation focusing on how it might affect him. No, his love for Jeannette was unconditional.
As he cared for her night and day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, there was not the resentment and frustration I have known with those who have a less mature love, those who walk away when the going gets tough. No matter how difficult or trying or exasperating the days and nights might have been, there could be joy because his love was not calculated.
Unfortunately, most love today is calculated. Sometimes, I think I should change the phrase in the wedding ceremony from “for better or worse” to “for better or better.” We are living in a time when many, many people enter marriage with what I call a “backdoor policy,” meaning that if things don’t work out, they are out the back door. It is as if this thought is already in the minds of many as they walk down the aisle. “I’ll stay in this relationship as long as my needs are getting met, as long as I am happy and content. Should things get the least bit difficult, I’m gone.”
Lifelong commitment certainly is not easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. But for those who measure up to the challenge, there are rewards too numerous to count. Mutual commitment to face problems and deal with them constructively ensures continued growth and a depth of maturity that only years can build.
Such commitment can also bring a depth of intimacy as couples face good times and bad. Out of this intimacy, passion for one another ignites and a couple can know the excitement of that spark that keeps the relationship on fire.
Perhaps, one day, we too can know the profound joy of holding the hand of our lifelong partner and, with tears in our eyes, understand the profound joy of having faced life together.