We Are What We Do



All my life, my parents lived out what it means to be married well.

Each of them came from homes that were dysfunctional in different ways and they worked hard to create a life that made space for one another and for each of their three children. They provided room to grow and flourish, to laugh and cry, to ask questions and live without finding all the answers—a space in which to live out the faith that brought them together and kept them together.

They were, however, very different people.

My mother was (and is, even in her increasing confusion) highly social, quick to speak, and emotionally more volatile. Dad was quiet, almost to the point of shyness, very slow to speak and he usually kept his emotions to himself

So of course they adored each other. And they brought out the best in one another, too. Most of the time.

No marriage is perfect and theirs certainly was not. But they worked at it, with a deep sense of commitment and a daily decision to hang in there, even when things got difficult. I will be forever grateful that theirs was the home into which I was born and that theirs was the marriage I got to see up-close-and-personal during the twenty years I lived with them.

I don’t use words like “devotion” very often. Something about it feels old-fashioned, maybe? But as I think back on their 63 years together, that is the word that rises to the top: they were devoted to one another.

In many ways, I think they saved one another. I know my father felt that way about my mom’s vivacity, her beautiful laugh and her sharp sense of humor. And my mother was astounded by Dad’s deep intelligence, his musical skills and his genuine kindness.

Somehow, they filled the holes in one another’s personality and together, they built something beautiful.

My father has been gone for almost 10 years now and, when she remembers that she was married, my mother misses him very much. In fact, I would say that she never quite got over his death.

The last three years of Dad’s life were difficult. As he spiraled downhill from Parkinson’s disease and chronic atherosclerosis, I watched as my mother tenderly cared for him. Yes, she was impatient at times and she was exhausted most of the time, but she completely embraced her role as caregiver, helping Dad to bathe, change clothes, eat. It was both painful and beautiful to watch.

They lived three hours away from us during those years and I drove down as often as I could. Ten days before he died, my father had to be taken to the nursing facility at their retirement community and I stopped by to see him on the way home from a pastor’s conference. If there is one thing pastoral calls teach you, it is what death looks like. When I walked in that door, I knew he was not long for this earth.

I kissed him, blessed him, thanked him for being such a good father and drove home in tears. Three days later, my youngest brother called to tell me he was gone. When we arrived that evening, my mom was still sitting by his bed, waiting for us. She stroked his head, thanked him for their good life and then smiled.

“You know, I was with him all day and at about 4pm, I told him I was going home to do some laundry and I’d be back in less than an hour. He died while I was gone. Isn’t that something?”

Oh yes, Mom. It was something. It truly was.


Image credit: sage_solar