Over the past weekend I attended a memorial service for my grandfather. He passed recently in his own home surrounded by loved ones. He was 84 years old. The memorial service was a lovely tribute to the man, mostly shared through stories told by his four sons. He was a hard working man, a funny and kind person who made friends wherever he went. He was also a devoted husband, married to my my grandmother (who passed in 2007) for 60 years. After the service ended, hugs and loving embraces were exchanged and we all went home to continue on with our lives. As I thought about the day and service and my grandfather I was struck by something that stood out to me as we all celebrated the life of a man we loved. It was these four words: The Power of Two. These words are something I read, write and say often given the work I do. I do not ponder them deeply as often as I should.
Why does making a relationship last matter? As I thought about my grandparents and the legacy they left behind I believe that their marriage and its impact on the lives of the people who sat in that auditorium was their greatest legacy. 60 years of a life shared together, raising four sons was surely no easy life. My grandfather grew up on a farm in South Dakota, he worked for The Coca Cola company for 25 years. He then went on to own a successful print shop and retired to enjoy his eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
There is absolutely no doubt that there was a deep and whole-hearted love that formed the foundation of Tom and Irene’s marriage. The story goes he met my grandmother while in the hospital recovering from a “life-threatening” appendectomy. He tied her apron strings to his bed post, assuring she never left his side, and she never did. Everyday my grandparents made the choice to love each other, be kind and helpful and to make each other laugh. Marriage is work and there were surely hundreds of bumps in the road, days where staying together felt more difficult than going their own way. I do believe my grandparents generation saw divorce differently than perhaps we do today. I also wonder if the infusion of technology into our everyday lives has impacted todays marriage statistics. While technology creates wonderful opportunities like learning relationship skills that would not have been possible for my grandparents generation it also presents many challenges to long term committed couples that did not exist for their generation.
The bottom line is that making a relationship last is still as relevant as it was for their generation, maybe more so. A relationship spanning 60 years can teach important lessons about family, perseverance, commitment and the ties that bind people together. My extended family is no stranger to divorce and failed relationships, as I looked around the room I know that for many of those folks, especially the younger generation, the marriage between my grandpa and grandma was possibly the most stable and loving example of a life long commitment they have. One of my (much younger and more courageous) cousins spoke of how he hoped to have the kind of love they shared with a partner one day. I think we can all share the sentiment.