Monday, May 05, 2008

Together Again, At Last

I’m taking a bit of a detour from the usual Mom’s Little Angel post today. I’d like to honor my uncle, Michael Register, who died Saturday from complications of a broken heart. It was Uncle Mike and Aunt Mary Jean who inspired me to write “Why I Still Love You” fourteen months ago:

“A little more than a year ago my wife, Jill, and I sat back with members of my family in a crowded room and watched a man and a woman dance. He, agile and with deft feet, did most of the dancing. She, weakened by a long-term illness, smiled as he swirled around her. He held her hand to keep her steady and looked at her with love in his eyes, yet watching her closely for signs of fatigue. They were my aunt and uncle; it was their 50th wedding anniversary.

Uncle Mike and Aunt Mary Jean met in church at a youth fellowship event. They were each other’s first date; they had been each other’s only companion since that evening so long ago. Theirs was the longest romantic history of any couple I’ve ever known, except for my parents, who met over fifty-eight years ago.

As Jill and I watched my aunt and uncle dance, we were touched by the evidence of their enduring love, and yet somewhat saddened by a realization. We have been married only a few years; our union, a subsequent marriage for each of us, occurred when we were well into our midlife. We wish we had met sooner, fearing as we do that though we plan to spend the rest of our lives together, that time will be, indeed, too short. We will never see a 50th anniversary.

I tried to reassure my wife that evening by promising her I would make sure we packed as many wonderful experiences and romantic memories as we could into the time we would be given. I was confident in my promise because I have had good teachers to show me how to care for and nurture a lasting marriage.

In addition to my aunt and uncle and my parents, I have many other relatives who have also enjoyed long-lasting marriages. It is from my older relatives that I have learned spouses should always let their partner know he/she is irresistible, to never stop courting and flirting with one another, to reciprocate every gesture of affection and act of kindness shown to you, and always attempt to steal a kiss when it is least expected, no matter who may be watching. It was when watching my older married relatives interact that I have tried to discover the secrets of having a lasting marriage.

I think everyone has an older-generation couple in their family they look to as role models. We think of these people as role models because we see what we think are prefect or near-perfect marriages. We do not really know what their troubles might have been during their many years together, but we know that no matter what they were, the relationship endured the challenges they faced; the couple survived intact. Somehow they figured out what to do to overcome differences and stay focused on the love shared rather than the frustration or hurt that might have occurred. I wanted to know how to do that, too.

Perhaps, I think, one of the secrets of a lasting marriage is to understand that no matter how much you might love someone, your relationship will not be perfect. It will be tested, sometimes more than once. Love involves risk, hard work and compromises, even sometimes tears, but with the understanding that such difficulties will arise, they can be offset by the goodwill and good memories that have been intentionally created in advance.

An additional secret, and one which I hope will become common wisdom, is to also understand that to conquer the test is to reach a deeper, more enduring connection that helps the relationship to survive, if not thrive. More love is the reward for remaining persistent and diligent in protecting and preserving the relationship.

Uncle Mike and Aunt Mary Jean’s relationship thrived. I do not know of what difficulties they faced, but I am certain whatever they might have been, none were so great that any were remembered on the dance floor during that evening of celebration of their marriage. Nor were they a year later during one winter night when my aunt died at home.

That night her oldest son, another cousin and I, the first three grandchildren of our clan, stood at the foot of their bed and watched as my uncle held the body of his wife of fifty-one years. He stroked her hair, sang love songs to her, proclaimed her to be his best friend, and said to us, “I’m so glad she can finally rest.”

In the thirty minutes my cousins and I stood there bearing witness to this remarkable display of unselfish love, I learned what I now think is the real secret of lasting marriage. My uncle’s thoughts were not of the pain of his great loss, but of the absence of her pain, that which had gripped her for so long. In his heart, in his life, she came first.

And so it is. The secret to having a lasting marriage is that in all matters of life, the spouse comes first. It is the best, indeed the only, evidence which demonstrates, “You are more important to me than I am.” That is unselfish love. When both spouses abide by this moral, there is no fracture that could threaten the marriage, no obstacle that cannot be overcome, no limit to the love that can enjoyed.

I left the house that early morning carrying with me a new perspective on committing yourself to someone in marriage. When I next laid eyes on Jill, I saw her differently. I held her differently. I loved her differently – I loved her more, and I pledged then not to waste an opportunity to tell and show her, “I love you more than myself.”

I first set out to write this book to celebrate long-term, committed, romantic relationships, to create a gift for a couple who wanted to tell each other “I’m still so in love with you; I would marry you again tomorrow!” For them, I hope these pages resonate familiar and are shared together with a laugh and a smile.

I also wrote this book for couples who will weather storms, be it because of specific events or the personal and relationship changes that might occur during a lifetime. For them, I hope this book might be the perfect gift for one to communicate to the other that they want the relationship to endure. May these words and photos inspire them to embrace their romantic history and recommit to one another with hope and optimism.

Finally, I sat down to finish this book soon after having the privilege to witness the passing of my aunt. I conclude it now with a renewed promise to my wife: Jill, you come first in my life and in my heart. To give evidence of that promise, I will make sure that in the last day we spend together, you will know not only why I loved you in the beginning, but why I continued to love you till then.”

It came as no surprise to any of us that Uncle Mike’s last words were, “Mary Jean.”

We shall cry today when he is buried beside his beloved wife, but we shall then leave that place, return to their home and celebrate their reunion.

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