My favorite question to ask my patients as they sit next to their spouse is “how long have you been married?”
Recently I was thinking about why it’s my favorite answer to hear. I smile inside as they light up to answer “50 years” or more, because I start thinking about all the life they’ve shared together. What kind of stories they must have, advice that probably rarely falls into anyone else’s ears. Only married 4 years myself, I can’t imagine the amount of their one and only life that they’ve shared with each other and what that even means to them. I wonder how many different people they’ve probably felt married to over those 50 years? How many times did they want to give up and what kept them from doing it? I watch these couples as a husband helps his wife take a drink while she lays in that hospital bed, or a wife helps her stubborn husband ask for a warm blanket, then covers him up in it. What kind of love have they been through to get to where they are now?
How long did it take them to perfect the art of knowing what the other one meant to say behind what they said wrong? I wonder how many moments did she want to fall apart, and how many times did he have to fill her back up so she had more to give? How many moments did she stand by him even when she disagreed? They’ve had a lifetime of learning how to love.
I wonder about all their happy tears, and moments when they shared pure joy. The laughter. Sharing life’s biggest highs and biggest lows. Through birth of life to losses in life. How many sunrises have they watched together in how many different places? Moments when they sat next to each other feeling at home without saying a word, the years of finding home in just their presence. I wonder about all the times they got it wrong, and went to bed mad yanking away the covers. The looks of “how did I get so lucky” that can quickly change to “I can’t stand you, go away”.
How many times did they get disappointed before learning how to forgive? How many times did they love each other even during the times when they hurt all wrong? When they didn’t feel like loving the other but did it anyways. Did one wander away or both at different times? How many prayers for each other have they prayed? How many stories of hers did he listen to as she rambled on with every detail and how many sports games did she sit through while he watched them on tv?
I imagine it as it started with their youthful hands holding each other as they make each other a promise. A promise that they can’t possibly understand the meaning of at the time that they’re making it. A time when they don’t realize that this wedding day is likely the day they will love each other the least. Because when they get to the other side of their life 50 years later, to this hospital bed holding each other’s wrinkled hands, all that matters anymore is knowing that they made it together. With the stories that only they know about each other, and a love that only they grew.
There is so much beauty behind that answer– “50 years”, more than the person asking could ever know. But I will keep asking because they deserve to be reminded of the beauty in their answer. And because, with good health, I hope to have my time 50 years from now, looking at my husband to see our life in his eyes and home in each other that no one but us can understand. When we can respond with “50 years”.