What “For Better or For Worse” Really Means

papa and gigi

The story goes that when he finally came home from World War 2, she nearly knocked him over as she threw her long arms around him.

You couldn’t blame her. She’d prayed for his safe return as days turned into months that turned into years.

Worry hung like heavy fog across the whole world back then. But I think most about the worry of her own inner world that was spinning a mile a minute on a thin axis of hope. She spent nearly 1,000 days as a young wife without the certainty of her husband’s heartbeat. Can you imagine such a thing?

They went on to have three children, four grandchildren, and thirteen great-grandchildren. They served together in the home, in the church, in the public schools, and in the community. For seventy-three years they served together.

Last Friday around 3 am he peacefully went to be with Jesus. Five days later, also around 3 am, she joined him. It is surely one of the most bittersweet things I’ve ever witnessed.

The morning after her husband had passed, my dad went to see her straight away — to comfort his mother and to make sure she understood that her husband of all those years was gone. “Oh Lord,” she wept, “What am I going to do?”

Less than 48 hours later, she was unresponsive. We buried my grandfather, all of us emotional through the military honors as they handed my aunt the American flag. Two hours later we were at Gigi’s bedside, telling her goodbye and giving our blessing to fly on home.

After 73 years together, they left this earth just 5 days apart.

……….

bride

My daughter said she can’t imagine being married to someone for 73 years, that a couple would surely drive one another crazy and get “super annoying” after all that time. I told her I can’t imagine it either and I affirmed that indeed, you do drive one another crazy and it doesn’t take 73 years.

I can’t remember all the words of our conversation but I remember a few. I told her that marriage isn’t contingent on things like not getting on each other’s nerves and our ever-changing feelings. That those early, fiery emotions don’t quite burn with the same intensity forever.

“They don’t?!? You mean you don’t always feel that way? That’s terrible! I don’t know if I want to get married.”

“You begin to experience something deeper and more lasting than that,” I told her. “The fire gives way to a depth of love and devotion that’s hard to explain.”

It felt like a watershed moment for me, a moment where my own words stared me square in the face and dared me to believe what I’d just spoken out loud.

My grandparents’ story is a love story but not in the Hollywood sort of way. The truth is, they bickered with one another like the old married couple they were. She fussed at him because of what he ate and he fussed at her for fussing at him. They were opposites in every way, each with their own brand of willfulness. He was a boisterous extrovert who lived a very public life and rarely had an unspoken thought. She was more private and introverted. But she had a dry wit that we began to observe {and relish} as she got older. Usually she directed her well-timed barbs at my verbose grandfather, putting him in his place while the rest of us giggled. It always caught us by surprise.

……….

wedding

Last summer, after she had moved in with my parents in order to receive the increasing care she needed, he came regularly to visit with her. The kids and I were over there often and Papa always greeted Gigi in the same way: “HELLOOOO SWEETHEART!”

Sometimes his overtures were well-received. Sometimes they weren’t. Perhaps dementia made her unpredictable; perhaps her own emotions made her unpredictable. She always came around eventually, but it was a reminder that marriage remains a complicated dance until the very end.

I’ve been married nearly 21 years. I keep waiting for it to be predictable and uncomplicated, to settle into a rhythm of ease and harmony. I don’t know whether it’s comforting or disconcerting that after 73 years, my grandparents didn’t feel like lovebirds all the time. {Or even most of the time?}

This week their 73-year commitment has breathed new life into my own weathered union, reminding me that it’s a precious gift to grow old together, especially when you’ve walked through the fires of real life to get there.

I know the intent of “for better for for worse” vows. Whether things are going well or going horribly, you stay together. But I’m learning to translate those words differently.

This person will see you at your best and at your worst. And this person will bring out both your best and your worst. 

Marriage isn’t for the faint of heart because it is both humbling and humiliating. I only want to see my best! I only want others to see my best! I only want to be around people who bring out the best in me! I want to immerse myself in work that showcases my best!

Marriage doesn’t let you hide. And that may be the toughest thing about it.

……….

IMG_5123

Though death snuffs out life, it has a way of resurrecting perspective. This week I’ve thought a lot about real love, the kind of love that serves others. How it’s not the name we make for ourselves that matters but the life of sacrifice we pour out, the daily commitment that often goes unnoticed because it doesn’t garner “likes” or “retweets” or even a “thank you.”

My marital idealism flew the coop long ago. Our children already know that marriage isn’t easy and 100% romantic. We’ve been excellent role models in that way.

My hope is simple and singular — that my children will look at our life together and see the power of the Gospel of Grace through Jesus Christ.

I hope they will say,

My mom and dad saw the absolute worst of one another and chose love anyway. It was the love during their worst that somehow rescued their best, transforming each of them into a version of themselves that never would have been possible otherwise.

This is what Jesus has done for me — seen me at my worst and loved me anyway. This is what Jesus has done for my husband — seen him at his worst and loved him anyway. This is what Jesus has done for the world — seen it at its worst and loved it anyway. Only this kind of love can bring out the best.

Not a manufactured best or a self-improvement-book best or an only-showcase-your-strengths best —

Our truest best is only born out of being lovingly rescued from our truest worst. 

I’m not sure why God chose marriage to be this most two-edged of mirrors but He did.

It’s easy to look at those 73 years together, wax on about commitment, and feel inspired to pull our best selves up by our bootstraps and go “live a legacy.” But willpower is no lasting match for two people who have pledged their lives to one another in wedded ignorance bliss. My grandfather survived the jungles of New Guinea and my grandmother survived the hot textile mills as a lonely war bride. But there were surely moments when they barely survived one another.

Thankfully, the sin and struggle didn’t get the last word. Love did.

……….

When my Papa arrived at his true home last Friday, it was only right that Gigi didn’t wait long before she flew home too. I like to think that she gave it a few days just to make him sweat it out a little bit, one last playful jab as she finally got her turn to have the last word.

But without him by her side, there was no real point in sticking around. I think she held on for him, even through her own suffering, because hers was a love that waited and sacrificed for the ones she loved.

This time she was the one who returned home to him and I imagine that she nearly knocked him over for the second time, both of them overjoyed to be reunited.

sunset

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Comments

  1. says

    Marian, you have captured so beautifully the “for better or worse,” that your Papa and Gigi lived out. For those of us who knew and loved them, you have described their differences well, and yet we all saw their commitment to each other even when they disagreed. The very last time I saw them, I had the privilege of staying in their home when I brought Mom for Uncle Fred’s funeral. The conversations around their table and in their living room are memories I will always cherish. This past week, difficult as it has been for all of your family, has been a beautiful last chapter of their story. But even as I write the words “last chapter,” I know that isn’t true! For those of us who know Jesus Christ and know that He was the foundation of their home, know that they are just beginning their eternal “ever after” in the presence of Christ himself. I so wish that I could be there in person for your grandmother’s Celebration of Life service. Love and prayers for all of you.

  2. laticia morgan says

    Marian, thank you for posting this. It’s been a rough year for me. As you know, I lost Dad just over a month ago. My parents were married for almost 45 years (it would have been in August). My mom stuck with dad through thick and thin. I learned that there was no such thing as a marriage without arguments…but there was also great amounts of love.

  3. Mom in law, Debbi says

    So beautifully said! I pray that someday , one of my grandchildren will be able to see the example of love, marriage, and our relationship with the Lord that we gave them. Thank you for sharing☺️

  4. says

    This is beautiful, Marian. What a legacy your grandparents have left. And what a privilege your children have in you and your husband to watch another marriage that is not perfect, but is pointing to the One who is enabling you to keep choosing each other ‘for better or worse’.

  5. says

    This story and your inspired words had me tearing up throughout the whole post. beautiful in such deep and wide ways. Also, I love the picture of your Papa and Gigi when they were young. I also enjoyed the glimpses into the past and the little bits of history too. Thank you for sharing.

    My grandma came in town this past week. She also suffers from dementia and so my mom flew to Alabama, so she could fly with her to Oklahoma to see us all. There were so many bittersweet moments; Loving her presence, but hard seeing her memory begin to fade. Oliver and her really hit it off, and actually had us laughing most of the week. Young children have such a gift for bringing a lightness to an otherwise heavy atmosphere. It felt like a gift.

    I saw today is your birthday, and so I hope in the midst of an emotional time, your kids shower you with lots of smile and hugs, that bring you lightness, peace, and love today.

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