My mother met my father in 1975, while she was working at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. She was a nurse and he was a surgical resident. After his death in 1998, my mother told me she and my father had been together twenty years. In that twenty years, they had three children, my mother earned her bachelor’s degree and many other family memories were made. The one thing that made me believe a happily ever after was possible was never found in a Nora Roberts or an Avon Arabesque book. I found that proof, ironically, when my father became ill.
At that point they had been together fifteen years. I was thirteen. My father was in the hospital because of his heart issues, and I remember him chasing a team of residents out of his room. My father didn’t believe he was mortal and wouldn’t allow the hospital staff to take care of him. I remember my mother soothing him, talking to him with the magic that all wives have, and then putting lotion on his feet.
I’d watch her as she tended to him. I’d watch his response to her care. Her actions let me know love is made of up of many things, the most important being service. The ability to be available emotionally in a relationship allows you to build towards the happily ever after. I learned that love meant being able to see someone at their worst, and still give the best of your own self. Even at thirteen, I was moved by this. The service of my mother, and the acceptance of that care by my father, showed me that relationships are work. The happily ever after is not the vapid, sudden, nebulous thing that we see in movies. He got better and went home with us later that week. Their love did not fade despite the obstacles of their lives. Their relationship showed me perfection is not possible with another human being, but respect and adoration are its anchor. From that anchor, all things can be built.
Happily ever after is the goal, but it’s also a process. It’s the reward you receive after the hell and highwater fueled by tears. It was beyond the roses he gave her, the kisses she gave him, and the arguments they had because they were both strong-willed people.
Every day of your relationship you work towards that goal. You work towards being together one more day, no matter what happens. In the years since my parents’ marriage, and relationships of my own making and breaking, what this taught me was love is action, work and service. Even at the angriest I have been with my current husband, we still make the decision each day, to stay together—believing we can do it, choosing to see the best in one another. We choose to forego the guise of perfection for adoration and respect, every time.
Jennifer P. Harris | Write to Live Team