Keeping It…REAL – No matter how any of us try to be perfect – that’s not happening. Neither people – or marriages are born to be perfect. Sure, we may WANT perfect, the ideal — but  REAL is what we get.

Marriage is rarely a Hallmark movie or 24/7 euphoria. Instead, authentic marriage means sacrifice, issues, chores, schedules, love, irritation, thoughtfulness, forgiveness, anger, affection (not always in that order). It’s also idiocyncrasies, snoring, worries, richer and poorer. When critical illness and its side effects enters the mix, now that really transforms the playing field. One partner undergoes endless procedures/surgeries, diminished quality of life, anger, pain and fear. The other juggles worry, research, is the keeper of the medical records, and caretaker extraordinaire. That was our  marriage; that was our REAL.

I’ve poured my heart out these past months, writing about deep grief, and the missing of a husband I loved beyond words. It came to me recently, that the painting was incomplete. It was in black and white with pieces missing. While stark pen and ink art has always been my forte, when it comes to portraying a real picture of real marriage, black and white doesn’t cut it.  Grief outlined only in high contrast is pretty flawed and does a disservice to the flavors and colorations a real marriage holds. We marry the love of our life, the spouse of our dreams, each bringing a full heart and earnest promise for the future. But who really can say they are living the perfect bliss of their wedding day — every day? I want to meet them. Marriages can sometimes go through hell. The real ones get through it. We did. Okay, one of us left the building before the goodbye – but it wasn’t his fault. It was our reality.

Yes, we knew when we said “I do’ our marriage might not be a cakewalk. With my husband’s first procedure scheduled a week after the honeymoon, cancer had already interrupted the program. We just never anticipated the devastating avalanche that colored our world and eventually took him with it. While we weren’t in an anesthetized la la land on our wedding day,  we certainly weren’t given prophetical binoculars either. Given all we shared because and in spite of that particular landslide, I guess that’s a good thing.

Our coupleness was born of previous marriages, past experiences, commonalities, shared talents, friendship, passion and LOVE in capital letters. There was baggage, but my husband’s luggage won the prize. Neglecting regular follow-ups for cancer that was diagnosed and treated years before we met? Now that was baggage as big as a dumpster! We will never know how much of our dreams, of our future were swallowed up in that dumpster. Now THAT’S real.

We didn’t always agree. My guy’s occasional black moods could bring me to tears. My  missing the intimacy cancer stole from us brought us both sadness and frustration we showed in different ways.  Not gonna lie – our every day life was hardly a laugh riot, but had them, sometimes by the boatload of them – laughs I mean. Thank goodness.  Laughs, sometimes even at the never-ending stream of puns my husband cracked himself up with, softened the hard places.  No, laughter isn’t a cure-all – obviously – but it’s what we remember, what lives in memory.

In the Velveteen Rabbit, it is said that REAL “doesn’t happen to people who break easily or have sharp edges or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of your hair has been loved off, your eyes drop out and your get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” Luckily, we both got that. The glue in our marriage was what my husband spoke in his wedding vows to me, saying we were ‘never just you and me but we’. We were a team. We were Real.

I did a lot of things in our years together I never anticipated – so did he. I gave shots, cleaned wounds, sat in hospital waiting rooms so often I kept a ‘go’ bag packed. My generous spouse battled traffic, sometimes 2 hours each way, to go with me to my dad once or twice a month – for 10 years! His inner child could throw out-of-the-blue tantrums but he could also come home weary at the end of a business day, drop his bag and immediately make pancakes— just because his grandchildren asked.

Grief of losing someone sucks big time. It’s the ‘realest’ thing you’ll ever feel. Why then, is grief almost easier to share than the really ‘real’ marriage that preceded it?  Being human does not preclude the authenticity of grief; the love of two people no less devastated when death separates them.  Like the words of one of Marc Anthony’s songs:

“Love is all – the laughter and the tears that fall, the mundane and the magical;  the careless word, the healing touch, the getting and the giving of – all is love”

The  totality of grief springs from the marriage that love made, but more importantly from the stubborn, consistent intent to say ‘I still choose you; I still value you; I still love you’ every day no matter how hard. It means choosing each other even in moments when you struggle to like each other and no matter what life throws at you.

On my birthday last year, I penned a reflection on my life. Included in all that I was grateful for I wrote “I would choose the man beside me again and again and always – even in moments I wanted to strangle him – because there’s no other I want to kiss, laugh with, fight with, share a home or old age with. And no other man I love with all my heart. I had no way of knowing then that it would be the last birthday I would share with my husband.

He died only 6 days later.

No matter what trials life handed us, no matter how many tears, laughs, hurts or joys, we both still said ‘yes’ every day.  We loved unconditionally. In the end, our oneness, our marriage had all the components of a great novel – joy, grief, sadness, fear, anger, love, lust, commitment,…hope. It wasn’t a cakewalk and it certainly didn’t have a happy ending. But even now, I know we’d both say yes again because, as the Skin Horse told the Velveteen Rabbit, “once you become real — it lasts for always.”




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