Saturday, March 07, 2009

True Love Is...

I was asked recently to think of relationships of people I know that I believe are happy and healthy. It surprised me how difficult this turned out to be. Quite difficult and really quite sad. Then, as I was taxiing my daughter around yesterday, I realized that I have known one of the best relationships that has ever been.

I don't think my grandparents had a great romance. I don't know the story of how they met, but I don't imagine it had a fairy-tale quality. Life was more practical in those days - one got married and had children because that was Life. Theirs wasn't an easy one, either. My grandfather fought in World War II and I don't know any more than that because he never talked about it. To anyone. They had six kids and my grandpa worked in the oil fields to provide for them. They were so poor at one point that my grandmother had to sell her wedding ring to be able to feed her children.

When I was around six, my grandmother suffered a major aneurysm. I remember visiting her in the hospital with my mom, watching her drool and pull on my mom's earring in the way that an infant would. She literally had to learn how to talk again, how to walk again. She was never the energetic, independent woman I remembered from before. My grandfather was there every day. When she got quite a bit better he bought her a car, hoping it would motivate her to drive again. She refused. Her mind was still good, she remembered everything, like my love for Cheerios when I was five, and made sure to have them in the house every time I visited. (Even after I had outgrown them at the age of 21.) I suspect she knew very well the limitations of her physical body and didn't want to take the risk of her body failing her while behind the wheel.

My grandfather did the best he could to take care of her. He did it until his own body failed him in the task. As she got older, she started falling down a lot. She was quite heavy too, as she mostly sat around eating and watching TV all day. He still took her with him to the grocery store and on errands in an attempt to get her out into the world a bit. Until one day she fell and, for the first time, he wasn't able to carry her back to the car and home again. He had to admit she needed more help than he could give her and finally acquiesced to the nursing home that my mom and aunts had been pleading for. My mom made the trip to help him with the task and returned home saying his heart was broken.

My grandmother died a few years ago. This time I made the trip with my mom for the funeral. At the viewing my mom complained endlessly in hushed whispers that they hadn't made her look right. Her hair was wrong. What did they think they were doing with her face? I almost expected her to find the mortician and read him out over his poor hair and makeup job. I wasn't sure why it mattered, it wouldn't bring her back, but she wasn't my mom. And truthfully, I never thought of my grandmother as especially pretty. Handsome, in her way, but not very feminine or even cute. Then my grandfather walked into the room. He looked at her with tears in his eyes and exclaimed, "Isn't she beautiful? She's just so beautiful!" He was looking past the mortician's poor makeup job, past the limitations of her body all of those years, to the person that he had loved most of his life. Really loved. With all that he could give her. His heart was broken once again.

No, their life wasn't hearts and roses, champagne and bubble baths. I wonder if they ever had even a day of romance in 50 plus years. And, honestly, I think they were cheated out of a lot. My grandmother was very ill for 30 years of their marriage. I'm sure nobody thinks they're signing up for that when signing a marriage license.

What they did have was dedication and commitment to each other and to their family. In the end, after all the hardships, illness, their children's divorces, family crisis, they had love. I saw true love in my grandfather's eyes that day. He believed she was beautiful.

If I could have half of what I saw that day I would have everything I need. I would be very fortunate indeed.
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