I’m single, in my thirties, so I think about and study the marriages around me with perhaps more attention than other groups of people would.
There was an angry boy in my class when I was in grade school, whose parents seemed never to get along. I don’t know if they ever had. As a child, mystery and vague apprehension surrounded the principal’s office, but this boy could and did fill me in on it, on his frequent returns.
I saw his parents a few years ago, holding hands, smiling and easy with one another, apparently at peace. They had finally seemed to come to terms, I heard, and been at some level of peace since.
Parents of childhood friends divorced in my early teen years, the fixtures of my childhood social circle. Things had really never been right, but it took a decade and a half to finally break down.
A woman I know came to me a few years back, to tell me that she and her husband were splitting up. “This year would have been fifty,” she said, the closest to sadness I’d ever seen her; but no tears. No abuse, no infidelity, nothing overt. They raised their kids, had grandkids, a boat, a motor home. And just short of the golden anniversary—an empty shell? It sickened me.
Friends my age have been married, divorced, and remarried, before age thirty.
My great-aunt first married when she was about sixty. She overcame her extreme shyness, married “a prince,” say all his acquaintances, and lived seven happy years with him. “Ain’t love grand?” she said girlishly. After he died, she lived another twenty years on her own.
When my grandmother had the birthday I myself just passed, she had in arms her sixth & last child, whose fiftieth birthday is today as I write this. She didn’t marry an easy person (does anyone?). I’m told that a lot of relatives prayed.
After 62 years of marriage, my grandfather passed away, and my grandma was 80. The years had had their effect: sickness, failing eyesight, failing body, confinement to wheelchair and bed. She visited him twice a day almost every single day for the 22 months he was in a care facility away from home. He was almost totally blind, mostly deaf. She cut his food for him so he could eat it with some dignity; shielded him as much as possible from the embarrassments of age and infirmity. She was a lady. She is a lady.
I believe that even the best marriages are complex, weighty, tangled, and painful—and the more painful when you refuse to give up. But I’ve come to see that the pain of that struggle (of almost any relationship) is to be had over the void that comes from drawing back. My grandmother may be the most beautiful woman I know. She didn’t get there by giving up.
Suffering well is a lost art. Suffering in little things: loving the strayed child, serving the difficult spouse, seeking the friend who hurts you, letting go of hurts. Seeking oneself produces no fruit. Dead souls tell no tales.