Wide Awake: Happily Ever After
Some love stories really do last

For years, every time I visited my grandparents’ home, they would each be sitting in their own chair. My grandfather had a leather recliner. My grandmother had a small, upholstered swivel chair. Both were positioned so they could watch television with ease. They would sit together, night after night, watching TV, often bickering. They were married for 63 years.

After my grandmother died, I visited my grandfather in his apartment in an assisted living facility. His living room was arranged with the two chairs in their rightful spots. He sat in one, and I sat on a small loveseat. We were watching Jeopardy and at one point, he turned toward the empty chair. He put his head down, looked over at me and said, “I forget she’s not here. I’ll turn to her chair to say something, then I’ll remember she’s not here.”

My other grandmother was widowed twice. First to my grandfather, who died when I was a baby. Then to a man who adored her. She treated him poorly, but he continued to adore her, ignoring how cold she was and trying in many ways to make her happy. He was a devoutly religious man who said the rosary every day. He would go into their bedroom and kneel at the side of the bed for about a half hour.

She was also engaged to a man who died suddenly before they were married. She was in the kitchen cooking dinner one day after the two had spent a long afternoon together. He went upstairs, and my grandmother was startled by a loud bang. She ran upstairs to find him lying on the floor. He died soon after. This may have been the one man my grandmother truly loved.

When my grandmother was 82, she had a “boyfriend” for about a year before he died. He came to Christmas dinner, which was incredibly odd – to have your 82-year-old grandmother sitting next to a strange man and they’re dating. Clearly, my grandmother didn’t like being alone, and spent much of her life searching for a companion.

My parents have been married for 58 years. My wedding band is the friendship ring my dad gave my mom in 1951. (It’s actually the second friendship ring he gave her. My dad says the first was “cheapo,” but they took the trolley to a jeweler on Sansom Street in Philadelphia to buy this one.)

I used to try to explain to my friends how much my parents enjoyed each other’s company and did everything together. My friends didn’t get it, so I would try to make the point clear. “They even go food shopping together,” I’d tell them.

“Really? Why?”

“I don’t know. They’re just always together.”

I was married on Valentine’s Day 24 years ago. I met Joe when I was 19. He was 17. He proposed to me on a carriage ride in Central Park. (That’s 100 bonus points right there.) We were married on a sunny, snowy day, and every woman who attended the church ceremony received a rose when she arrived.

My parents will tell you it’s quite a feat (and quite an expense) to have hundreds of roses for a wedding on Valentine’s Day. The two of them, along with the florist, did everything they could to sway me toward lilies or orchids. But I was insistent. It was the one thing I wouldn’t change – I really wanted a rose handed to every woman.

It was Valentine’s Day, and getting a rose on that day is a message that true love exists, and true love can last. I saw that my whole life. I still do.

On my wedding day, I hoped everyone would see my parents, my grandparents – who were both alive then – and my grandmother (who surprisingly didn’t have a date for the wedding) and understand that finding a friend to stay with forever is worth looking for, and wonderful to find. And when you are with that friend for 40, 50, 60 years, you’re very lucky, and very loved.

February 2011
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