During one of my recent spirited closet clean-outs, my old Intern (the girl) joined me. (My current Intern – the dog, was on hand as well. And no, my closet is not that big. We were cozy.) Amidst the scarves, belts and boots re-org, Miss J stumbled upon a photo book from the year we got engaged leading up to our wedding. I’m not exactly sure when or why I stashed it there, but I have a suspicious feeling that it has something to do with the leather corners of the photo album being chewed.
[Current Intern problems. Was noted in his last performance review: “Intern needs to stop chewing on leather shoes, belts, handbags and photo albums immediately or consequences by way of a probationary period will be enacted.” Signed and Dated 2014.]
The photo album starts with the brunch we had the day after our engagement, spans the nine months from November to August of wedding showers, special luncheons, and a most festive rehearsal dinner. It also includes a poem that M wrote to officially ask permission. This has been a family tradition that I believe started with my Poppie who wrote a poem to ask for my Nana’s hand in marriage. After the poem is presented to the extended family, everyone “approves” it by signing the poem. Ours has signatures of cousins, aunts, parents and uncles. Miss J giggled uncontrollably as she read the poem. “Mazel” it said on the sides; “We wish you many years of happiness” it read below. We had the full support of our family as we started to plan our life together.
And plan we did! At our wedding, we shared the wedding vows we had personally written to each other. Our promises and goals; hopes and dreams; pledges and visions. We’d be globetrotters! We’d have kids right away! We’d always laugh together! I’d promise not to cook! Drenched with all-consuming feelings of love and excitement, we naively promised things like supporting one another through tough times, always being on the same team and having each other’s backs. You know, the “in sickness and in health” part. But with just lovelier words.
I think about that ubiquitous vow often. How it rolls off the tongue and how natural it is, and the sheer simplicity of that concept. But the thing is, it’s not simple at all. Supporting your spouse through The Unspeakable is one of life’s biggest challenges. Speed bumps and sharp turns are a natural part of life’s road map and we’re prepared – well mostly-ish – for them when they hit. But an all-out 9-car collision, is not on anyone’s radar. And that’s where things get really interesting.
M and I went to a beautiful wedding a few weeks ago. The bride and groom very much in love, very much excited for the joining of their lives together and the adventures ahead. And I found myself sitting there – one year post my diagnosis – for the first time really listening to their vows. Like many couples do, they promised a lifetime of unconditional love, support, and acceptance. And while I don’t doubt their intent, it made me think how unprepared we were when the rocky times hit. No one is.
When we blindly say “in good times and in bad,” we’re not really thinking about the bad. And so when the bad happens, it can be quite a shock. So now you’re not only dealing with what that bad thing is, but how to be the right kind of communicator, supporter, and spouse-whisperer to your partner in marriage and life.
And here we are, 15 years after M penned the poem, having been through our CJ, I realized it’s changed us, as things do, in big and little ways. We’ve practiced being better listeners. We’ve learned to have more tolerance for The Things We Can’t Fix and less worry about The Things We Can. We have developed better definitions of what’s important and what’s not. And we did all these things without a road map and sometimes not being on the same page. And that’s possibly the true meaning of a successful partnership: one where you allow each other the latitude to negotiate their own process and journey.
(You can guess which one of us that means listening, and which one of us that means processing by discussing all and any scenarios.)