Today is my parents’ 50th anniversary. On January 27, 1968, in a Russian Orthodox church in central Pennsylvania, an 18-year-old and a 22-year-old made a commitment to one another. They upheld their vows to the very end.
It’s uncommon today for couples to marry so young and to stay together. My parents came of age in a different time and culture, a world where starter marriages weren’t yet a thing and the median age of a U.S. bride was 20.8 (by 2015, the number had risen to 27.1). Still, it’s pretty amazing that a teenage bride and a groom in his early twenties chose each other and stuck together for all those years.
It wasn’t always easy. While every marriage has its challenges, my parents seemed to have more than their fair share. My mom’s father died suddenly just months after my parents’ wedding. My parents struggled through years of infertility, several rounds of cancer treatments, job loss and depression, serious health problems and hospitalizations, deaths of siblings, parents, and friends… they endured some rough times, which took a toll on their relationship. As a child and teenager, I occasionally wondered whether they would stay together. When I was about nine, a neighborhood girl whose parents had split up told me that if my parents argued a lot, they would probably get divorced. Fortunately, her prediction did not come true.
From my perspective, the sweetest part of my parents’ marriage was the latter part. Their life together was like an inverted arc, curving upward over the last fifteen years, at least as strong at the end as it was at the beginning. Watching them grow closer in my adult years made me realize how great the rewards can be for couples who choose to hold onto each other when circumstances seem intent on driving them apart. I’m reminded of a line from a Clint Black song: love “isn’t something that we find, it’s something that we do.”
I did not say that today would have been my parents’ anniversary because the truth is that their marriage did not end with my father’s death. My mom feels my dad’s presence in her life as much today as she ever did. Walking him to the edge and saying goodbye was but one more step in their journey. She continues to talk to him, sort through his belongings, handle his affairs, and most importantly, to feel his love.
When my father died, I was struck by how poignant and powerful it was for him to be able to hold the hand of a person who had known him so well for so long. From their first meeting when he was 18 through his death at the age of 72, my mom was there, participating in nearly every stage of his life. What a beautiful thing. My husband and I married in our 30s and 40s, and for a moment after my dad’s funeral, I was a little sad that I hadn’t known my husband in his younger years. I hope that we are lucky enough to live into our 90s so that we, too, can weather the inevitable storms together and survive to see the rainbow at the end.
Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. Your love is an inspiration, and I’m so grateful to have witnessed it.
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