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It’s been a strange time, a month enclosed by a wedding at one end and a funeral at the other. A metaphor, perhaps, for life itself, this month of such contrasts. Especially in Valentine’s season.

The wedding was spectacular. A radiant bride walked down an aisle strewn with rose petals. Her gown was breathtaking, her tiara caught the light, and it all seemed like something out of a storybook.

Her handsome groom came to meet her as she kissed her father goodbye, and then she continued that momentous walk by the side of the handsome young man who will be her life-sharer from now on. Endings and beginnings…that moment at weddings that make many of us a tad weepy.

At the reception, this beautiful young bride and her groom danced as if they’d been created for one another. Not a single misstep. Just perfect grace and union.

I thought of that bride at the funeral home so soon afterward, where we spoke in hushed voices and reached out our arms to a woman who had just lost her husband of 62 years.

Once they, too, had danced in one another’s arms. Once they had looked at one another as if this moment were all that ever was or would be.

But those of us who have entered into the marriage contract know – yes, how we know – that the wedding waltz fades into another kind of dance, the daily dance of creating a life together.

A lovely notion. But also the hardest work of our lives.

Our bride in her tiara may not envision the sheer energy it takes to be united with another person. She may have to learn that compromise is the anthem of marriage, and that not all of the sounds in her life will be laughter.

But oh, how much our friend, the grieving widow, could tell that bride about the institution some say is as endangered as the snow leopard.

This widow is a woman who certainly knew about the dailiness of marriage – the bills, the ills, the silly pouts and foolish pride.

But after a lifetime with a man who told her every day of their marriage, no matter what, that he loved her, this woman dressed now in black never lost sight of the fact that it was always worth it.

Worth the compromise. Worth the sacrifice. Worth the days when you wonder how you’ll make it through another.

A 62-year marriage is sacred. It has been tested in every conceivable way, and in the best unions, has made peanut butter and jelly taste like caviar.

A six-decade-plus marriage is one that spans dreams, tears and terrors, and also has built into it accommodation and tolerance – and a certain grace that defies mere words.

These “oldlyweds,” which should be a word just as newlyweds is, had their share of sorrow. Most of us do. But they always picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and moved on…together.

So her tears at his funeral were, of course, tears of loss – but also of profound gratitude.

This widow was saying goodbye to her beloved companion, the “lifer” who had loved her long after her hair had gone to silver and her face was etched with what some call wrinkles, but what he often told her were the reminders of thousands of smiles.

That beautiful young bride gazing lovingly at her new husband on her wedding day would not dream of loss and illness, or the rush of tenderness she may someday feel for him as he loses his hair or his confidence or his waistline.

But if she is lucky, she will be by his side for a lifetime – and that means through the long, sick nights just as surely as through the balmy, sunny days.

Once the tiara comes off and the gown goes into storage, our beautiful young bride might learn the best marriages are homes for love, and that there really is such a thing as being drenched in satisfaction.

So yes, a wedding and a funeral are a study in contrasts. But in some odd way, they both speak of a notion that we should never forget: loving can cost a lot. But not loving can cost so much more.

February 2012
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