BEANERY ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE
WHAT HAPPENED TO OLD-FASHIONED LOVE?
I’m reminded of the song by that title when having a conversation with a woman I’ll call Jane. We met at a cancer center in Pittsburgh. Our situations made both of us tired, just going along, but still enjoying the good times wherever we find them.
As we waited in a very crowded room, she asked me why I was there. She told me how she had remarried at age seventy-three years old, just six months ago, after a long forty-five year marriage to her first husband. Joe, her husband now, had also had a long first marriage. They believed in marriage so after a short courtship, they wed.
At this point there were several heads turning in our direction, many of them young—or young to us!! They had laptops, I-phones, I-pads, and whatever else is new and modern, and were busy typing or texting. But they paused long enough to listen. Like all of us, it’s human nature to listen when someone is telling a story.
Jane explained that sixty-three days after they married Joe was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw and throat. He underwent removal of his lower jaw, and needed a trachea to breathe and a feeding tube to eat. He cannot close his mouth and he cannot speak.
Around the waiting room you could see looks that went from shock to disgust as the listeners imagined what that must be like. For me, I was grateful for having a husband who can still speak, annoying as that can sometimes be, and who can eat. I know how quickly this can change so we enjoy every minute we have together.
I asked Jane if she had support and help, something a caregiver is so very much in need of. She said her children don’t understand why she stayed with Joe, and at that moment, a young voice seated across from us said I don’t either. Why didn’t you just divorce him and move on? The speaker was a young man, late twenties, early thirties perhaps, who was seated with his wife. She also spoke up—We’ve talked about it and if this gets bad for me then we will divorce so he can move on and find someone else.
There were nods of heads around the room, all from younger people. Jane turned to me and casually said, “I’ll bet you know why I stayed, Fran.”
My reply was simple and quick. “You stayed because of your marriage vows.”
We just smiled while the young couple looked almost confused.
“In sickness and in health, did you not say those words?” I asked the young woman.
“Oh, of course,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean you give up your life to take care of someone.”
I think the only thing that surprised me more than her comment was the agreement around the room.
Jane looked at me quietly.
“How can the world survive when we care so little about the vows we take?”
It’s a thought I’ve often pondered in my hours of sitting in waiting rooms. What happened to “in sickness and in health?”
The younger people began to discuss the “in sickness and health” issue with comments that ranged from perhaps its true we said it, but something that requires you to change your life isn’t included to I’d like to think he/she would take care of me, to we will go our separate ways if it gets worse.
Marriage today is too quick to happen and too quick to end. Jane leaned over and said, “You know my kids are in their fifties but I wonder if they would stick around to help their spouse. I didn’t raise them this way. Whatever has happened to our belief structure?”
“I don’t know,” I replied, “but my fear is really for the youngest generation who watch as their parents walk away when the going gets tough.”
About that time Joe came walking back to the waiting room. Behind him was Jim, my husband. Jane got up, took Joe to a seat and hooked him up his “lunch.” She talked to him softly and he would nod. Most, I’d say 99% of the faces in the room, turned away. Surprising, when you consider where we were sitting! If you’ve never been to a cancer center I can tell you that the waiting rooms are filled with wheel chairs, walkers, people with oxygen, people unable to speak, people with no hair, deep black eyes. Joe still smiled at Jane, at me, at Jim.
I put Jim’s coat on him, pulled him to his feet, grabbed the walker, the bag of medicines, and we slowly mowed toward the exit, Jane and Joe right behind us. I turned as we left and offered my best wishes to all those sitting there, and offered one parting piece of advice, welcome or not: Always think of each other, love is why you married, love is why you stay married, and it will endure anything. Never forget you said ‘in sickness and in health.’
I thought a lot about the afternoon and how depressing it would be if I believed all young marriages, and some older ones, would end if one or the other became seriously ill. That thought is not in my belief structure, at least not completely.
There are many strong, good young marriages. Still, it seems as if they enter marriage too quickly, too lightly these days, and walk away at the first sign of a struggle.
Just food for thought, nothing more.