Shortly after Christmas last year, my father commented to me that it was the first Christmas in sixty-six years he had not spent with my mother. “Ever since I took her to the Snow Ball when we were sophomores in high school,” he said.
They started dating as fifteen-year-olds, “went together” through the remainder of high school, wrote many letters while they were at separate colleges, and married within days of their college graduations on June 25, 1955. Then they took a two week honeymoon in Carmel, California, near Pacific Grove, where my mother had vacationed as a child.
I came along nine months and ten days after the wedding. And more kids over the years.
My parents’ marriage was always at the core of our family life. My mother was a homemaker and stay-at-home-caregiver. My father worked long hours as he built his career. I remember fun times and sibling rivalry and punishments and long summer vacations. But always, my parents and their partnership were the foundation around which we grew.
No one really can see into another couple’s marriage, so I can’t be completely accurate in describing their relationship. And perhaps children are among the last to see their parents as separate people, each with his or her own aspirations and dreams. As children, we are too self-centered.
Also, as I got older, I came to realize that my parents had their differences. I’ve written before about how I had to parent the parents one summer to get them to talk to each other. My mother let things slip sometimes about her grievances against my father. In the months after Mother moved into assisted living, my dad told me stories about a depressing time for my mother, which I remember only as a young child.
They each compromised for the other, sometimes more one than the other. I remember my mother telling me shortly before I got married, “You know, marriage isn’t always 50/50.”
I, in my naivete, replied. “No, it’s 100/100.” Boy, was I wrong, because none of us can live up to that standard.
But still, whatever their differences, my parents were a matched set—in my mind, and in the minds of many of their friends.
Ten years ago, during the summer of 2005, much of our family gathered to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in Carmel, where they had honeymooned. All my family and my sister’s family were there. My brother’s wife was about to have a baby, so they bowed out. It was a joyous occasion, and both of my parents were healthy, active, and engaged.
After getting reacquainted with Carmel that summer, they rented a house there for a month or more each of the next several winters. They took cruises. They bought a new home on the Olympic Peninsula. “We had a good life,” my father told me often in the last few years.
“I never really minded taking care of your mother,” my father told me after she died. (I remembered some of his complaints as her abilities declined with Alzheimer’s, but I kept quiet.) “She took care of me for so many years. It was a privilege for me to care for her.” I know he believed that. And he cared for her well, first at home and then by faithful visits to her living facility.
Last summer, on June 25, 2015, they spent their 59th anniversary together, alone in my mother’s room. She was in hospice care. She was failing, and we knew it. We didn’t know how long she had left. As it turned out, she died on July 4, just nine days after their anniversary.
My father was bereft after she died. But he seemed to rally as he planned his own move to a continuing care facility . . . in 2016, because he wasn’t ready yet. But he didn’t make it until 2016. He died this past January.
So this year—on their 60th anniversary—both my parents are gone. I mourn them both, but I am comforted to know they are together again. They do not have to spend their anniversary apart, as they did last Christmas.
Happy 60th Anniversary, Mother and Dad