When you’re young and you marry, it’s all about the good times.
Unless you’re somehow forced by circumstances, you marry someone because you are happier with them than without them and you are optimistic that things will get even better the longer you two are together.
When you’re young, marriage is maybe the ultimate act of belief in the future.
You say the vows — better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health — but you don’t really believe anything bad will happen. You’re in it for better, for richer, for health and if any of that bad stuff happens, you’ll deal with it with all the invincibility of youth.
It’s different when you’re older. When you marry past 40, you carry the baggage of previous failure and the awareness that bad things happen as well as good things and you may not be able to control very much about either.
If your life has gone at all according to plan, richer or poorer may not be as much of a factor as when you’re younger, but health is much more likely to come into play. My good friend Mick and his wife have been married for nearly 33 years and both are dealing with health problems.
For the last six years of my father’s life, my mother was his 24/7 caregiver. She was only a year younger than he was and not in the best health herself, but she gave everything she had to help him. I don’t think there’s any better way to show love for someone than that, and I wonder how many of us could do something like that for as long as she did.
I know I couldn’t. I have such admiration for her efforts, and also for the help my sisters and my brother gave her. But I also know none of them considered it a chore, an imposition or even hard work. When someone you dearly love needs your help, there really isn’t any question whether or not you will help them.
Sickness or health never came into play in my first marriage. I was 25 and she was 21 when we took our vows, and I wasn’t even 30 when it all fell apart for reasons that had nothing to do with health. It was 30 years ago this spring that we spoke for the last time, nearly half a lifetime ago for me. Of course, I’m 62 now and health problems are becoming a reality both for me and for my lovely wife.
For me it’s mostly aches and pains, as well as elevated blood pressure as my weight fluctuates. I take glucosamine for my incipient arthritis, pills for my blood pressure and over-the-counter sleep aids to help me nod off at night. My wife is dealing with much more significant issues, most of them involving anxiety. At times during the last year or so, things have been extremely difficult for her.
I do what I can to help, and we seems to have made at least some progress. I’ll be damned if I give myself any credit for it. When you have one failed marriage in your past, all you’re really trying to do is get even. I love her, though, and I’ll be here as long as she wants me and I’m still drawing breath.
That’s what “in sickness or in health” is all about.