One of my best friends, Gretchen, has started writing and gave me permission to post her latest on A2K. ---BBB
I'm a life-long liberal and proud of it. I'm a Women's Rights, Civil Rights, Social Security Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, food stamps, pro-union, clean air, clean water, safe food, safe workplace, "Ask not what your country can do for you", end of legalized racial segregation and gender discrimination liberal. If you're gay, that's okay. If you're gay and want to get married, you have my blessings. Just tell me where you want me to send the wedding gift. I'm pro-choice, but I would never have an abortion. That's MY choice. I believe that children need to be able to grow and to choose their own paths in life as unfettered as possible, but in my house there were strict rules of behavior (curfews, zero tolerance of drugs, emphasis on learning which always requires the oversight of parents, to name a few). These are my values, and although some conservatives like to believe that liberals are without values, I happen to believe that liberals are all about family values. But that argument is for another day. Let me just repeat that I'm a liberal and proud of it.
How can I be a liberal and believe that couples who live together without the benefit of marriage is not something that I would support? Don't get me wrong, I don't think living together vs marriage is a moral issue. I'm not in the least qualified to pass judgment on the morality of others. No, my objection is both pragmatic and realistic.
When two people make the decision to live together, they have no rights as a couple under the law. If the coupling comes to an unhappy end, there's no basis on which to decide who gets what, including, most importantly, the children, the furniture, and the pets. Everything depends upon the reasonableness and fairness of both parties. Sometimes it works out well. Other times it's a nightmare. It's all up to the two people involved who, hopefully, are not angry, vindictive or bitter. Although legally bound couples still go through the agony of divorce which involves lawyers and the court, it is still my belief that a legal marriage is still preferable to one that is not. This is why I come down strongly on the side of marriage vs co-habitation. That's just one of the reasons I believe that marriage whether it be between heterosexual or homosexual couples is the best way to go through life with your life partner.
I will be accused of being old-fashioned and betraying my liberal ideology, but, for me, marriage brings with it a promise, a promise that is tremendously important and meaningful. It defines a relationship in a committed and special way when a couple makes a promise or a vow that they, hopefully, will honor for the length of days they have together. It is the foundation on which everything rests and something that each person in the relationship can hold onto when their marriage is tested sometimes in brutal and trying situations. The vows, which are often said in the context of a religious ceremony and in a church, don't have to be seen as religious and don't need to be said in a church, although most times a church is the setting for the marriage of one person to another. The traditional vows themselves are not religious in nature although many people view them as such and that's their prerogative. They are simple, straight-to-the-point statements that carry tremendous weight and define more than any other words spoken, what marriage should be.
These are the words I spoke and the promise I made when I married Norman in 1981:
I, Gretchen, take you, Norman, to be my
husband, to have and to hold from this
day forward, for better or for worse, for
richer, for poorer, in sickness and in
health, to love and to cherish; from this
day forward until death do us part.
Forty-six words; only forty-six, but they constitute a promise that brings with it great meaning and oftentimes requires great strength to honor. They are not to be taken lightly. There are times when I never think about the promise I made. Then there are times when I repeat those words over and over again to myself to reinforce that I made a promise and intend to live up to it no matter what circumstances make it difficult. My word is my character and to keep my word defines who and what I am and what I stand for.
In 1989 Norm was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury. The neurosurgeon said that he had the worst head injury he had ever seen in anyone who survived. Needless to say, the process of healing and then living with this almost fatal injury required of me and my family and a host of friends Herculean stamina, determination and devotion. Norm has often said that while his injury demanded a lot from him, it didn't come close to what his family and friends had to endure. The accident left Norm with short-term memory loss, loss of concentration and focus.
In addition to all the losses we had to endure, one of the most painful one was Norm's inability to be the Pastor of his church and to be part of the ministry that he loved so much and did so well. I also had to give up my plans to be a family counselor. I had just earned my doctorate in psychology after working for many years to earn it, but Norm needed my help and there was never a question that his needs superceded mine.
....for better or for worse.
Then after nineteen years of living with this disability, it morphed into dementia, lewy body dementia, to be exact. Dementia is unpredictable and takes away a person's abiltiy to live a normal life. Being the caretaker of someone with dementia is a demanding, never-ending job. Each day you are faced with watching your loved one fade away into a place that is not accessible to you. Norm suffers from confusion, delusions, loss of the memory of people and places, and any other facet of bahavior that he used to depend upon to navigate the world. Norm is not able to drive. He has to depend upon me, and sometimes his friend, Walt, to bring him wherever he needs to be. He can't be left alone for any period of time, so that means that my life has to be lived in tandem with his.
....in sickness and in health.
The vows that we made many years ago have special meaning now because we are living them. Of course, there are couples who never took those vows who are as faithful and caring to their partners as I am to Norm. But, for me, my fidelity to the words I spoke with such conviction give me strength. Who knows why. I just know that when they were spoken, they were written on my heart.
I just found this BBB - I missed it the first time you posted it.
If it's not too intrusive to ask, how are Gretchen and Norman doing now?
If you're still in touch with Gretchen, please tell her that I was touched by her essay, admire her commitment to her husband and wish them both the best.
Gretchen and Norman sold their home in North Carolina and moved to Delaware to be close to their two daughters. They have an excellent support system there. This gives Gretchen the assistance she needs. She's also working in the office of one of her daughters, so she gets some diversion from caring for Norman. Norm is doing as good as possible. He's able to mix with other people at a senior center, which gives him great pleasure.
Gretchen is a talented writer. I was lucky to receive copies of most of her writing. For Gretchen, writing helped her to keep up her morale. I was her confidant with whom she could discuss all events in her life. She wrote about many of them, including the above wedding story.