I found out how strong my grandparents’ marriage was a few months before my grandmother passed away. It was my wedding day. We were all staying together at a church conference center; my entire family had driven from North Carolina to Indiana to help me celebrate. My 84-year old granddaddy was the pastor conducting the ceremony.
I was in my room getting ready and I heard my grandparents talking in their adjacent room. My grandmother was going over the ceremony with my granddaddy, who had retired from full-time pastoring a few years prior. He, unbeknownst to me, had been struggling with early signs of dementia. Unbeknownst to me, because my grandmother took such care of him.
“No, you have to emphasize this, not for, for this reason shall a man…”
and so on she went through the entire ceremony, again. She wanted it to be just right (because she really loved me), and she wanted it to be just right for his sake as well. She really loved him.
Just a few months later, she was ill. I found out more about their marriage then. They were so tired. Grandmother had been struggling with restless legs, and Granddaddy had been up in the night with her, every night walking up and down the hall. Up and down, up and down, up and down for hours. Until she could rest. He really loved her.
When she was very very near her home going we were all there. Of course we were all there. We are a pack, a clan, a seriously enmeshed glob of a family who really really adore one another. We had been keeping vigil all day and all night. We had left her room so she could rest, and were in the living room talking and feeling sad. We were using baby monitors to listen when we had to be in another room. Through the baby monitor we heard him praying over her. She was unaware of anything around her. He prayed out loud for her anyway, as I suppose he had probably done the entire 56 years of their marriage. They really loved each other.
These were precious, precious moments I will always treasure.
But in considering their marriage I think it was probably hard, very hard at times. I remember that they bickered. Honestly, they had…spats. Looking back I can see that my grandmother was probably a little stern and my granddaddy was probably a little needy. He was in full-time ministry for 65 years. Being a pastor is hard. He didn’t miss Sundays. They always came to the beach on Sunday evening instead of Saturday, so as not to miss church. She waited for him and they came together. She could have come with us a day earlier. She didn’t have to wait, she just did. He sometimes left for a funeral. She never complained. That must have been hard.
He was an early bird. She was a night owl. He was punctual, she was not. He did not come from a Christian home, she did. He was a talker, she was a writer. He was in the forefront, she in the background. When she worked in a doctor’s office, he cooked dinner and ran errands. When she made a list, he completed it. When he wrote a sermon, she typed it. She was a planner, he was a doer.
She raised 2 small children while he traveled as an evangelist in the early years of their parenting. That had to be hard. There were no cell phones…my husband has always answered every hysterical phone call I have ever made.
“I don’t know babe, I think it’s probably very unlikely that hiccups can cause brain damage.”
“You’re right, I’ll call mom.” (If my mom didn’t live right next door to me there is no way I would continue to be a whole entire person. I would have fallen completely apart when my 3rd boy was born.)
She couldn’t call him on a whim. She had to be patient. Granddaddy told me how he came to realize how hard his traveling must have been for her, so he stopped traveling as much and stayed home more. He also told me how he thought she was an angel. He said that a lot.
I’ll never forget the look on my grandmother’s face on their 50th wedding anniversary. The morning of which she came literally strutting down the hall dangling the golden necklace he had given her. From it hung a modest solitaire diamond. She was so proud, but not in a prideful way. I think she just felt treasured.
The greatest gift I received on my wedding day was not wrapped in pretty white paper. It was a conversation not meant to be heard through a paper thin wall. It was a conversation that exuded an entire marriage of mutual sacrifice, mutual submission, and mutual love. The gift was a shining example of what marriage is meant to be. I am so blessed to have received it.
Marriage is hard. Stay married anyway. In the end you will need her to keep your wits about you. You will need him to walk with you up and down the hall. And when one of you prays the other into the arms of your Heavenly Father, the difficult road will have been worth it. And I’m pretty sure the difficulty will fade in comparison to the gift you leave to the generations that come behind you.
Happy Valentine’s Day