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For Your Marriage

It Wasn’t an Option

Have you ever thought about how uniquely we approach a difficult situation when we know there is no other option? We put our heads together and keep working until we figure out a game plan. We get help. We pray. Sometimes, we hold our breath, muddle through until time passes and things change but we “stick with it” because we believe there is no other option but to stick with it.

It was 1979. I was a sophomore in college and I had come home to visit my parents for the weekend. My grandfather had recently passed away and for the first time I saw the adults in my life emotionally and tearfully shaken by the loss of their father. (It was a light bulb moment for me. “Oh yeah…Grandpa was their dad. He was Dad’s dad!”) This lucent occasion helped me to make sense of some “family stuff” I always wondered about but never asked.

So, standing in the kitchen, cooking bacon and eggs at the stove, I watched my parents at the table engrossed in their favorite sections of the Sunday paper. I had been hearing about couples divorcing in record numbers. This was all new to me. With the exception of movie stars and my mom’s best friend, I didn’t hear about divorce. Now, in this new inquisitive, “enlightened” period of my life, I had been wondering why so many marriages were ending.

I guess I should mention that we were an Irish/Catholic family. We didn’t “discuss feelings” if you know what I mean. We didn’t complain either. It’s quite a powerful combination – Irish/Catholic. (I have no regrets. It has come in handy in my 29 years of marriage raising four sons. But that is another story.)

So there I was at the stove listening to the peaceful sound of sizzling bacon. Yet, in my head I was baffled and uneasy. I ran through a litany of struggles my parents had endured in their 28 years of marriage–a lengthy, painful recovery from a tragic truck accident, a battle with lymphoma, years of unemployment, seven children, and now the realization that I was probably clueless about loads of other stuff! I know it was naïve to do, but I started comparing their struggles with those of recently divorced couples. It just didn’t add up and I had to do it. I had to ask.

I just took a breath and blurted out without any preface, “Why? Why didn’t you guys get a divorce?”

At the same moment, they lowered the newspapers in their hands, looked up and answered in unison, “It wasn’t an option.” Then they lifted their newspapers and went back to reading. Just like that. (See what I mean…Irish/Catholic.) I thought, “Huh? That’s it? That’s IT?” I guess it is silly to think I would have heard, “Oh, your mother gave me seven beautiful children” or “Oh, your father is my best friend.” (You know, that stuff we heard on Leave it to Beaver or Donna Reed.) No chance. The answer was, “It wasn’t an option.”

November 10, 2011 will be the 60th wedding anniversary of Frank and Mary. They are soul mates. They have unwavering respect and devotion for each other. They enjoy profound admiration and love from their 24 grandchildren, seven children and their spouses. They continue to inspire and encourage without preaching, and with very few words. They are a living example of faith and the commitment to have and to hold, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health to love and to cherish ‘til death do us part.