The other week, I stopped by my parents’ house just in time to watch my mother and father bicker about cake. This year, they’ll be married 60 years. He’d just come home from the mother ship—Costco—with $25 worth of pound cake for my mother’s cousin’s funeral. This is despite her instructions to only spend $20.
After the funeral, they came over to drop off something I-can’t-remember, when I asked how everybody liked the overpriced pastry. (I know, I’m a troublemaker.) But by then, they had moved on to something else. It seems that, during the service, my mother wanted to say something to the woman sitting in front of my father. But when she asked him to tap her on the shoulder, he refused.
“You’re so weird, Owen,” she says, shaking her head.
“Why should I tap somebody on the shoulder I don’t know?”
“Because I asked you to.”
“If you asked me to jump off a bridge, should I do it?”
“You’re just weird.”
“You said that already.”
As I sat and listened, wishing I had a pencil and a piece of paper so I could accurately capture the details, I had to smile: So, this is what 60 years of marriage looks like.
Every time my new husband and I are out with my parents, they bicker. About why my Dad shouldn’t order potatoes. Why it’s too cold to sit on the patio. Whether they should share an entrée or each order their own. We’re almost flattered that, when they’re with us, they’re comfortable enough to be so openly disgruntled.
And yet when we leave, Dan will always ask, “Do you think that will be us someday?”
And I reply: “I hope so.” As I watch my parents head to their car, holding hands.
Because we know that their bickering is just a shill for something else. That in between the nitpicking, there’s the giggling and playful hitting, and, yes, the implied joy of shared living. Even though it doesn’t always look like what you might expect it to. And yet, you don’t spend 60 years with another person to wind up with nothing, just like you don’t spend a lifetime investing in a 401K to retire in the red.
Over the course of five decades, my parents have enjoyed the payoffs—and countless rites of passages. Two wonderful children, grandchildren, dogs. Several cars and houses. Too many vacations too count. Pretty things. Things that work. Special occasions, like this one. An ever-improving quality of life.
Still, there have also been the challenges to survive—the pain of loss, the pressures of debt, and the traumas of their children.
My father was diagnosed with it 11 years ago, after having a routine stress test forced upon him by my mother. That’s when they found the small speck of dust on his lungs.
It was a defining moment for our family. My father’s response was to acknowledge a “good run” and curl up on the bed for a nap. My mother, however, lay awake with it for months—in silent fear until she knew for sure that, like an exposed cad, the cancer had been run out of town.
I remember the moment they rolled my father into recovery after surgery. He was clean and safe. The cancer put out like an unwelcome guest. Laying there quiet on a gurney, wearing tubes linked to computers chirping, his eyes were open and his face flushed like a tri-athlete fresh from competition.
And my brother said, “Hey dad. We love you.”
And I said, “We’re right here dad.”
And my mother leaned in real close, tears in her eyes, and whispered, “I saved your life, Owen. And now, I want a diamond tennis bracelet.”
He made pretend he didn’t hear it. But I know he did. Because after my mother and brother left me there to take first watch, the sides of his lips curled up ever so slightly.
It’s that kind of code between two people that makes me want to cry. The fact that they’re my parents makes it all the more powerful. Because as their daughter, their love and 50 years together has been the greatest gift they’ve ever given me. Hands down.
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Jill Sherer Murray is an award-winning writer and speaker who studies creativity, relationships and self-growth. She is also the founder of Let Go For It®, a lifestyle brand dedicated to helping individuals let go for a better life. Jill’s TEDx talk as well as her advice column, Big Wild Love: Let Go For It® were created in service to her loyal and growing fan base, who seek support in the act and the art of letting go for the love they desire and deserve. Follow Jill @letgoforit on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.