A few months ago, I found a videotape from my grandparents’ 40th wedding anniversary. It took me up until last week to find the strength (and let’s be honest a working VCR) to watch it. I hadn’t seen this video in probably 18 years or more. I couldn’t even recall the details from memory. So that Sunday afternoon, while sitting alone in my bedroom, I saw my family younger and happy (at least at this moment). I also watched my grandparents dancing, something I never remembered seeing.
https://videopress.com/v/3CERdg5c (Click here to see them dance)
I didn’t always think highly of their love. To me, through my immature helplessly romantic eyes, it seemed dull. There weren’t constant kisses, hugs or the things I associated with “true” love. When I was a teenager, I called my grandmother out on this. “When I get married I want out loud love. Not like you and grandpa”. She explained to me in that sweet and utterly self-assured voice of hers that when I was born they had already been married 30 years. They had lived twice over all the things I thought made marriage special. She told me, “In all the years we’ve been married I’ve never wondered where your grandpa was at night because he was home. He’s never come home drunk and belligerent. He’s never raised his voice or made me feel unsafe in my own home. He has provided for both me, the girls, and you. We’ve laughed, traveled and had more fun than you can imagine — together.” She explained that just because I couldn’t see their love, it was real for her. I still didn’t really hear her, and I wouldn’t come to understand her words for many years to come.
I went off to college, and through my 20s (and let’s be honest my 30s) I dated men who made me feel loved in these small shallow ways, but when the rubber hit the road of real commitment, I would continuously be left waiting. The things that I needed, in the moments that mattered most, they never seemed to be able to give them freely even though I had mastered the art of making myself an emotional, physical and spiritual contortionist for them.
I, like so many, have even tried to force love in places where I felt secure in other ways (friendship for instance) only to learn time and time again that you can’t force this thing. It either is, or it isn’t.
When I was around 30, my grandmother became ill, and it got progressively worst. She had a stroke, and while in a recovery nursing home, a doctor told my grandfather that he should leave her in the nursing home for permanent care. The doctor explained that caring for her would be hard, and at his advanced age, it could be too much. My grandfather, a quiet but confident man, told the doctor that his wife would not be going anywhere without him. “I’ll take care of her.” That he did, until her final breath, he made her life as comfortable as he could. He would sit by her hospital bed, that we set up in their den, and hold her hand for hours. He cooked, cleaned, and played nurse. When we were there to help, he was always overlooking our work as to be assured it was done well.
She started to drift away, but when he was in the room, she was more present. She was filled with light when he was there.
In her final days, when the hospice nurse let us she was no longer going to eat, I found my grandfather in the kitchen cooking sausage patties. I asked, was it for him. “No, it’s for your grandmother,” I explained to him what I already knew he heard the hospice nurse say — she was done eating. She was done. While I talked, he took the sausage and put it in a blender. He then took grits and added them to the blender. At this point, I am silent. He adds in some milk and blends it all together. “Maybe she will still drink her breakfast. If she is here, she still needs to eat.”
Those words my grandmother shared with me about love back when I was a teenager — that real love — I got to watch it in action. Of all the things my grandparents gave me, this example of true love is by far the best. I am a romantic (a cynical and closet romantic, which is the worse kind) by nature. I love — love. So I have to be very cautious to not fall into the rabbit hole just because I feel warm fuzzies inside. Fortunately for me, I have this blueprint in my head. It’s not from a book, a movie, or some make-believe imagery. It’s the real thing. I watched love become more than a word, and I know that if my grandparents found each other one day I could very possibly find someone who will hold my hand on the best days and perhaps even on the last day.
Originally written in September 2015. Edited August 2019.