In this time of high divorce rates, I am exceedingly aware that long marriages are rare. That being said, over Thanksgiving I observed once again the long-standing and enduring love of my mother-in-law (Sadie) even in the face of my father-in-law’s (Clarence) alzheimer state.
I’m not even sure that words can adequately describe what I’ve experienced in observing my mother-in-law. She is a strong woman, one who rarely shows much emotion, and one who adores her grandchildren. When they married well over 50 years ago, divorce wasn’t though of as much of a reality. “Until death do us part” meant exactly that. And Sadie has taken that to heart.
Most people in Clarence’s state are in nursing homes. The day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute care that he requires would overwhelm most people I know. “Until death do us part” for Sadie has meant that Clarence remains at home. It means that she has learned the rhythms of his day, the signals of needing to eat, drink, or use the bathroom. It means that she has purchased a hospital bed and a lift chair. It means that she doesn’t leave the house without much thought and preparation. It’s like having an oversized very young child to consider with each outing.
“Until death do us part” means that Sadie has shown love to Clarence in ways that most of us would see as over the top or martyr like. It’s neither. She loves her husband. She cares for him. She takes seriously her vow to love and cherish him until deal parts them. A little more love like this in the world might bring the divorce rate down.
Can you imagine knowing that this was her fate? When she said those vows over 50 years ago, do you think she imagined what it would mean for her to follow through with those vows? Can you imagine going into marriage knowing that you would need to set aside your entire life for years on end to care for someone who can’t remember who you are???? If you knew that, do you think that you would go through with it in the beginning?
We know that all marriage requires self-less sacrifice – at least those of us who have been married for any amount of time know that. It takes self-less sacrifice to care for an ailing spouse, and there are other extremes like that.
- We may be called to put one career on hold while the other spouse pursues his or her career.
- We may be called to care for children.
- We may be called to endure the faithlessness of a spouse.
- We may be called to endure a long-term illness of a spouse.
- We may be called to endure a drug-addiction of a spouse.
- We may be called to endure a mental illness of a spouse.
And these are the big things. Think about all of the little self-less things that we are called to do in marriage.
- Sharing a bed with another person.
- Sharing a bathroom with another person.
- Having to consider another before making a decision.
- Setting family priorities and goal.
- Surrending selfish pursuits.
They all start out small, but they are still self-serving items. In order to stay married, we must die to self and serve the interests of the other. Marriage works when both do this. And we are not called to start serving once we are served. No – we must start serving and know that it is this self-less sacrifice that truly is marriage.
Until death do us part.