I met a family in the Emergency Department. The patriarch of the family was in the bed. The matriarch, children, and grandchildren stood near.
I turned to the patient’s wife and said, “How many years have you been together?”
I don’t always ask. It can be a dangerous question. But in this room, with the concern she was expressing, I felt the need to give her the floor, to give her something to say with confidence.
“Sixty-six years,” she said with a quiet smile.
I started to laugh.
I don’t always do that, either. Laughter by the chaplain isn’t always understood.
“I’m laughing because Nancy and I have been married for thirty-three years. And that seems like a long time, in a good way. But we’re only halfway there.”
I stopped for a minute while everyone else smiled, too.
“But it doesn’t seem like it’s been long enough, does it?” I asked her quietly. She shook her head.
“May I pray for you all?” I said. And I did.
But I’ve thought a lot about our conversation. I meet many couples who have been married fifty years and more as I tend to the crisis situations we encounter. As we talk about the situation, the head issue or heart issue, the fall or the accident, I discover that they all believe that the marriage has been too short to end now. They still have sentences to finish for each other. They still have buttons to push, frowns to invert, meals to split at the early-bird specials. As much as they don’t want their partner to suffer, they aren’t quite ready to quit.
And so I smile with them, tear up, listen to stories, invite God to help with the peace that makes no sense.
Which is why, for now, I’m so deeply grateful we get to finish each other’s sentences and share a Rueben at Culvers. As I’m regularly discovering, there can be deep grace in being the older married people.
Thank you to Megin for this photo.