I knew my parents loved each other, I had no doubt about that. After almost 45 years of marriage, they were still very much a couple. They did everything together, went everywhere together, still held hands. But watching them the last month, dealing with my father's sudden, grave illness, it became so clear to me that with my father's passing, it wasn't only the end of a wonderful man's life. It was the end of a beautiful love story.
They were still so very much IN love.
As my brother mentioned to me recently, you often forget that your parents started out as a young couple themselves. Before they had children, they had each other. And after the kids flew the coop and grandchildren came along, they had each other still. My parents faced quite a bit of adversity trying to keep their relationship together in the early days. I've always known of the obstacles they faced from their families when they decided to marry. And yet they persevered, and built a family and a life together.
Sure, they bickered and they argued ... what couple doesn't? And my mother seldom understood the dry wit or the jokes that my father would tell at her expense (a cultural thing, perhaps ... or more likely Mom got it all along and just didn't let on). Mom wasn't too keen on some of the bad habits Dad had, but back in the day, everyone smoked, everyone drank ( Mad Men, anyone?).
During the last six weeks, my mother never left my father's side. She stayed by him in the hospital room, catching sleep on a cot next to him only an hour or two at a time, so that she would be there whenever he was awake, whenever he needed her. And whenever he awoke, he would look out for her first, before anyone else. She did everything for him; and he fought so hard for her.
I caught a glimpse of their special relationship one afternoon when I was helping out in Dad's room. Occasionally Mom would ask Dad a few questions, to make sure he was still alert or to confirm that he was awake. Holding hands, her face close to his, she asked him, "Who am I?"
To which Dad responded : "Somebody".
Mom replied: "Somebody? Somebody to who?"
Dad: "Somebody to someone. Somebody here to test me."
After a little laugh, Mom said again: "Who am I?"
Dad: "My Wife."
And Mom, with a little chuckle, threw this at him: "How many wives do you have?"
Dad deadpanned: "One.... SO FAR."
Mom just cracked right up.
And I turned my face to the wall so that they wouldn't see my tears welling up while I laughed with them.
My mother is a strong woman. She realizes that this is part of the life cycle, and that she's in the next chapter of her life. We're trying to gather around her as much as we can, but she'd like us to get back to our normal lives. Whatever the new normal holds.
But one thing that I know for sure, that I have been a witness to in the last little while:
True love does exist. I've seen it with my very own eyes. I'm a product of it.
And I will be so lucky if, by the time we reach our post-40th wedding anniversary, my own marriage will still hold half of the love that my parents had for each other.