I went to my cousin’s wedding in Toronto recently.
The logistics of my attending her wedding included an awesome friend and her husband who took my kids for four days (driving them to and from school/daycare and everything), a second friend making herself available as a back up in case the first friend needed a break/something came up, my mother funding my plane tickets, and my Aunt booking a double room to share with me.
It was awesome. And it was awful.
But mostly awesome.
My mother’s family is my tribe.
The oldest cousin and therefore the matriarch of that branch of the family, I watched these kids grow up. They were my playmates and surrogate siblings, even though I lived apart from them for most of our childhoods.
The bride is one of the youngest. I was eleven when she was born, I think, and her brother was seven or eight. So I barely know her. I barely know a lot of them – especially the younger ones, and the ones who lived overseas.
But when we get together, you’d never know it.
Family reunions are full of late night Risk games and heads bent over puzzle pieces. The adults indulge in their favourite debates, and the cousins drink and plot hijinks together.
But this trip was really hard for me, too.
You see, the bride was the first cousin to get married since my wedding nearly nine years before.
My wedding was the last family celebration – when they all drank my health and cheered for me as I came down the aisle with my new husband. Perfect Husband gave such a touching groom’s speech that my uncle remarked afterwards to him, “Every man in the room is in trouble now, thanks to your speech.”
Now here I was, attending this wedding alone. My husband was too sick to join me.
But, as I said, this family is my tribe.
They pitied my situation, but they made no judgments. Everyone seemed to understand clearly that my husband is sick. I didn’t have to defend him. In fact, they repeatedly sent their love back to him.
Because in our family, once you get married, that person is family too.
There are no divorces on my mother’s side of the family. Some of her siblings married late, but when they married, they stayed married. One uncle never married – but he is finally engaged to his girlfriend of many years. If we aren’t sure, we don’t get married, even if it takes until age sixty to find that one person.
So my family knows that PH is my One Person. They know that he is worthy of love, because I love him and I married him. But still. I felt very aware that a lot had changed since my wedding day, and that I was not exactly an advertisement for marital bliss.
It’s hard to attend a wedding and not reflect on your own marriage.
The bride, my cousin, was so happy. The only person happier was the groom, who clearly worships the ground she walks on. I listened to them pledge themselves to each other, for better or for worse, and I couldn’t help thinking how few people really understand what that means.
For better is easy. It’s easy to love each other when you’re young, and carefree, and healthy, and life is good.
For worse is a lot harder.
I’ve been married for nearly nine years, and my marriage has had a lot more “for worse” than “for better” in it. I know people who think that I have martyred myself to “for worse” and should get free.
But this is what I was thinking when I watched these two beautiful young people pledge themselves to each other, for better or for worse:
We don’t know what’s coming in life. Every life will have some illness, some tragedy, some hardship. Some people will be in car accidents which disable them, or have a child with cancer, or will lose their jobs. Life is precarious, and any one of us can fall at any moment.
When we marry someone, we are choosing a partner to go through life with. We’re looking for someone who we trust to catch us when we fall. And we’re looking for someone who is worth catching if they fall. When we get married, we promise to catch each other, even as we hope that neither of us will ever need catching.
I bet that’s the real reason people cry at weddings. Because they know the fall is coming.
Maybe he will fall, and she will need to catch him. Or maybe she will be the one whom he has to carry. Maybe they will take turns at it, catching each other. But what we all know, when we watch two people get married, is that at some point, one of them will end up having to carry the other. We hope it will be rare. We hope it will be brief. But we know that it is going to happen.
My mother is caring for my father, who has Alzheimer’s. It’s hard on her. Very hard. But he would have done the same for her, had the cards fallen differently. In exchange for knowing that he was there for her, she is there for him. That’s how it works.
I am doing my best to keep family life running while my husband sleeps upstairs. But you know what? He would have done the same for me if our situations reversed. He would still do the same for me, in the future, if our situations ever do reverse.
When I see people martyr themselves to miserable relationships, I always ask them, “Would he do the same for you?” And if the answer is “no,” I tell them to leave. There’s no point in going through life catching someone who would let you fall. Go find a better partner.
When I was depressed, PH was there for me. His most recent fight with depression has lasted five years, and I am still there for him. If it goes on for the rest of our lives, I will still be there for him. Because I promised, and because he would do the same for me: and I love him for that.
He’s my One Person.
And it’s hard to go through life missing your One Person. Because I do miss him. Every single day there is at least one moment – usually many moments = when I want and need my husband, and he isn’t there. It’s like going down the stairs and missing a step, and it’s a daily occurrence that I can’t seem to adjust to.
When I get home, he is the one who needs me – trapped in the house, unable to do any of the things he used to love doing, PH needs my companionship, my conversation, my love, and reassurance. PH is a giver by nature, not a taker, so it’s incredibly hard for him to be laid up in bed while his wife struggles alone. He can’t even lend me a sympathetic ear, because he sees my struggles through a filter of self-blame.
In his dreams, I divorce him again and again, because he feels so unworthy and unlovable.
But I don’t want to divorce him. I want more of him in my life, not less. Besides, then I would be truly alone.
As much as it may have felt like it, sitting alone at that wedding, and as much as it feels like it on days when I’m pushing through a migraine, juggling work and child care, or on days when my mental health feels strained to the breaking point – I’m not actually alone.
PH can’t catch me when I fall right now because I’m busy carrying him. It’s hard, because I know that if I topple off the edge, we’ll both be hooped. But no one ever said “for worse” was easy.
And maybe it’ll get better.
Maybe it’ll get worse.
But either way – we’re in it together.