The Seasons of a Marriage
by Mary Jane Hurley Brant
I just celebrated a milestone in Italy – 45 years of being married to the same man. Not bad for a woman who still thinks of herself as being only 43 years old. This “looking back time” has left me sentimental and reflective about the state of marriage and how those years spent together can be comparable to the four “seasons” in a calendar year. Maybe my musings will capture some of your own experiences of the seasons of a marriage, too.
The Spring of Marriage – We were young and intoxicated with desire and optimism that every expectation we ever dreamed of was possible. In hindsight, I also realize how we were overflowing with projections and blinded by the light of the mythological god and goddess. I actually thought of us as Eros and Aphrodite, the god and goddess of love! Yes, we were in love and playing house in the suburbs of Newark as my husband finished his MBA and I worked to support us. He told everyone he married me for my money.
The Summer of Marriage – We brought our two children into the world. The kids filled our lives with love, fun and adult responsibility. Later, in this second season of the marriage cycle, our children flew away from their carefully constructed family nest and into their young college lives. And, just as I cried when I dropped them off at nursery school, I wept again after dropping them off at college. When we arrived home we went in and looked around. The silence, the stillness was deafening. No children opening the refrigerator door every 10 minutes. No children sleeping in until noon or at least until their father revved up the lawn mower under their bedroom windows to get their sorry butts out of bed! “Sunrise, sunset, swiftly flow the days” – now my husband and I morphed into Tevye and Golde from “Fiddler on the Roof.” No wonder that song makes so many parents sigh or cry.
During this summer season I wanted my husband to “fix” things (like my lonely heart) and announced, authoritatively, “Something needs to change!” I thought the something was him. He understood that our children being gone was a hard adjustment for me but gently stressed that they needed to live their own lives and we needed to begin our next season. Yes, the flowers of summer had gone and we, like other middle-aged parents, learned to surrender to our “empty nest.”
The Autumn of Marriage – We learned about the golden leaves of transition. We also watched our son, Richard, fall in love and marry the woman of his dreams. Little did we know that a college investment would turn into a family blessing. We learned, however, that our daughter Katie’s fate wouldn’t be as fortuitous when after her first year at college she was handed a cancer diagnosis. Our family clung together as the storm around us reached hurricane proportions and Katie’s surgeries and treatments continued on and off for 10 years.
Despite her courageous efforts, our sweet daughter never did return to complete wellness because her brain tumor outsmarted all of us, including her doctors. We mournfully had to learn another painful lesson: life isn’t fair. That was when Katie, at 28 years old, left this world and ours. The autumn of our marriage presented us with a monumental challenge: We had to figure out how we would survive this ultimate loss.
Eight months after Katie’s death our first grandchild entered the world quickly followed by number two and three. We pitched in wherever we could, tried to act like we knew nothing about raising kids, and pretended to keep up with the little ones physically. The grandchildren’s joy and presence helped us accept what no parent wants to even think about, never mind accept. We credit our grandchildren for giving us back our lives.
During the latter part of this autumn season we shared what we wanted to do with our life now. I still wanted the focus of work as a counselor and writer; my husband was nearing retirement but would keep up his volunteer work, and we both wanted the pleasure of play. We’re doing well and live our lives to the fullest, as Katie would have wanted us to.
Standing on the hills of Assisi for our 45th wedding anniversary, I felt the rewards and peace St. Francis spoke about and the personal rewards of going the distance. Not every couple is as lucky.
The Winter of Marriage – While we are not there yet, we realize old age will be the final season of marriage. My husband will be Odysseus, the Greek hero who fought the good fight, despite the perils and challenges he encountered during the previous three seasons. His wife will remain a combination of Aphrodite, Golde and the Artemis she really always was, the independent woman he fell in love with over four decades ago.
If I project into the last season, I imagine we’ll live a bit more in our souls because our bodies, like the trees of winter, will have lost most of their leaves. We’ll also stay grateful and open to any final gifts of grace this winter season of marriage might provide. We’ll read Yeats. We’ll watch Netflix. We’ll laugh. We’ll smile. We’ll say thank you. We’ll pray.
This article was published in The SandPaper, October 15, 2014
and Aronimink & Greene Countrie Living Magazine, March, 2016