Forty years ago this week, my parents were married. Their story started out much like other couples, a chance meeting, a budding romance, and eventually marriage. It was what came after their wedding that was truly a unique love story
But first, back to the beginning...My parents were in the same physical education program in college. They met when dad misspelled mom’s name on a sign, and she was sure to let him know it. He thought she was cute and started pursuing her. She eventually fell for my athletic, muscular, funny dad. After dating for a while, my father was drafted into the army.
In his mind, the sensible thing was to break up-- no need trying to make things work long distance. Mom most definitely disagreed, and an argument ensued which involved a brick being launched toward my father’s head. Though athletic, my mom is a lefty, which automatically garnered her with a tendency for wild pitches. She fortunately missed, and dad left for the army. Somehow through letters and cards their love endured while dad was away.
They married in 1971 and started life as young newlyweds. It was about a year into the marriage that my father contracted encephalitis, otherwise known as inflammation of the brain. Though often fatal, my father escaped death, but was left with an extensive road to recovery. After a lengthy stay in the hospital, my dad was sent home to recuperate.
He was no longer the man my mother had married. My father, who at the time of their marriage was known to show-off his one-handed push-ups, could now barely get out of bed. Neurologically, he had to learn most things over.
My mother, still a newlywed, became a care-giver and a provider for them. While she went to work, my father recuperated and stayed with his sister-in-law and his three year-old nephew. Most afternoons would find my father and his nephew watching Sesame Street, both of them learning their ABC’s and numbers.
It’s hard for me to picture that dynamic. Though infertility was a great possibility because of my father’s illness, I was born six years after he was diagnosed. By then, he had returned to work full-time, was again actively playing sports, and heading for his master’s degree in counseling.
I never witnessed the years of devastation and heartache in my parents marriage.
The years that should have been filled with adventure and young love that were instead eaten up by illness and recovery.
The hopes and dreams that were lost.
The days where my father dealt with being inadequate as a husband and a provider.
The moments when my mother questioned whether she would get back the man she once married.
I’ll never know the man my father was before his illness, whether he had different personality quirks or temperaments. I’m okay with that, because the man I have grown up with is the kindest and most gentle man I know. He was and is fiercely devoted to my mother and to the Lord. I am so honored to call that man my dad.
My mom was and is the voice of reason and wisdom, much learned perhaps, in the early years of her marriage. She is a woman of integrity, honesty, and truth. I am blessed to call her mom.
Through the years, their love has only flourished and grown. While my sister and I worried that mom and dad would be lost without us after we left for college, they found new hobbies and adventures. In this year alone, they have done mission trips to the Dominican Republic, Florida, and New York. They’ve traveled from Maine to Alabama. They are the still the best of friends.
I was privileged to have a front row seat to watch a love that had been forged out of fire. A love that stepped in to the flame; sacrificed it’s own hopes, dreams, and future, and rescued someone else.
My parents did not show me a perfect marriage or a perfect love. There was no way they could. It was not the fairy-tale love of movies, but instead, the compassionate, loyal, and unequivocally committed love that can only be made visible through crisis and suffering. For the past four decades, they have chosen to love through all circumstances.
In a world full of conditional love and marriages that end when the road gets a little rough, my parents have lived a true love story.
Thank you, Mom and Dad.