“When you get married, you pack your suitcase and you go off on your honeymoon. When you get home, you start unpacking your bags and you unpack those bags for the rest of your married life. And you never know what’s going to come out of them…”
I’d heard my mom say this a million times, but I really didn’t understand what she meant. So, as fate would have it, I was on Facebook one day when I saw that one of my friends had shared a video called “What is Love? An Elderly Couple, After 50 Years of Marriage.”
I’m a sucker for videos about elderly people – especially videos about elderly people in love. So, I clicked the link. What I saw was probably the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen in my entire life. It literally brought me to tears.
Essentially, it is a beautiful story about an older couple who have been married for fifty years. In 2004, the man’s wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease which, at the filming of the video, had progressed to the point that she was unable to do anything for herself. She literally relies on her husband to do everything for her. It wasn’t that they were a cute couple that made the video hit me so hard. It was the message.
The man said, “I don’t count it a burden, whatever, to have to care for her. I need to do everything. From the moment she gets up to the moment she goes to bed, I do absolutely everything…clean her teeth, shower, dress, everything…” Okay, stop right there. Literally every day of this man’s life revolves around taking care of his wife’s every need? Yup. It’s not something that he signed up for a few times a week. Nope. He spends every day caring for this woman.
And he follows with, “…but I count it a privilege to care for this one that I have loved all of these years and continue to love….”
How many of us could honestly say that we could live a life like this, taking care of someone else’s every need, and doing it with a joyful heart? I don’t even know if I could.
He goes on to say, “I am determined to care for her every need. You see, God has loved us so unconditionally, and I understand that God has put His love in my heart. And because I realize how much God has loved me, that’s how I, too, can love my lovely wife. She has done so much for me over all of these years. Now she can’t, but I can. And I can return her love, and it’s a love that…means I can do everything for her… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
At that moment, my mom’s words played over and over in my head: “…you unpack those bags for the rest of your married life. And you never know what’s going to come out of them…”
I ‘d be willing to bet that when this man made his marriage vows to this woman, he didn’t think that at fifty years of marriage his wife would not be able to take care of herself. I don’t think he predicted that at fifty years of marriage he would be completely responsible, not only for himself, but for his wife, as well. I don’t think he foresaw that at fifty years of marriage he would have to sacrifice his own dreams and desires to care for his wife.
But, this is the cross, or should I say “privilege” that God has given him to bear. And he carries it with such joy and affection for her. This is what love is about. This is the kind of love that the world is longing for.
We may not be called to love someone in this way, but we are called to love each other, wholly and selflessly. This means loving every part of them – accepting them with all of their faults, insecurities, flaws and even their quirks – and to keep loving them, no matter how they change.
I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s hard to love. It’s hard to put my wants aside and to love others first. But it is what we, as Catholics, are called to do. Perhaps, rather than seeing it as our “job” we can consider it our “privilege,” knowing that when God chooses you to love others the way Christ loves us, He gives you the unfailing strength to do it.
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
– 1 Corinthians 13:4-8