As bad as it might sound, I have a couple of friends for whom I pray that they will outlive their spouses. The reason is simple: I want to see them have peace and happiness on this earth.
All long-term marriages have ups and downs because that’s the way of life. Sometimes it’s hilly, sometimes it’s smooth and flat. The difference is when relationships are sustained through love and good humor over grim determination. Some people, I believe, stay married to each other just out of meanness, not love. They just don’t want to see the other happy and content.
That, though, would not be the case of Miss LaTrelle and her husband, John. They had spent what a teenager would call a "lifetime" together. They were edging toward 50 years of marital bliss and though there had been children, mortgages, squabbles and problems, it had, indeed, been bliss.
They were beautifully content with each other and their simple lot in life. Nothing had been fancy or extravagant as far as material possessions went, but as far as love goes, it was luxurious and grand. It was equal to spending every night in a sumptuous hotel penthouse overlooking the beach in Maui, Hawaii.
That is better than riches or gold. Just ask the man who has wealth untold but is bankrupt of love.
As we all know, life presents its challenges. Some of which are just too hard to bear (or so it seems).
I think often of an old woman I once knew. She had lived to be 95 years old in the Southern mountains where life, especially during the Depression, would cruelly try the soul of any man or woman. She had suffered through primitive childbirth and winters that killed livestock and froze babies to death.
She had looked death in the eye as it refused to blink when it took her husband young. She raised her children alone, depending on milk from a sad-looking, half-starved cow, vegetables that grew scarce in the rocky red Georgia clay and a Bible so worn over the years that the cover was tattered and the pages loosed.
Worry had etched itself deep into the lines of her face when she spoke to me the words that I have never forgotten, so true are they.
"The good Lord never gives you more than you can bear," she said, her blue eyes washed to a pale gray by either the years or the tears or both. She shook her head and smiled wryly. "But he shore can bend ya double sometimes."
It helps mightily when those times are shielded with love from another. That’s what Miss LaTrelle had. Her hard times were always guarded with love by John. Even when they discovered that he had pancreatic cancer, they clasped their hands tightly, bowed their heads in prayer and with love — always with love — they carried on until the end.
Miss LaTrelle had started out as an admirer who e-mailed about columns of mine that she loved. But we soon began a friendship, though we still haven’t met. During those months as she nursed and loved him through his final months, she wrote of her strong love and devotion and how she couldn’t bear to think of days without him.
When he passed from this life into the next, she wrote to tell me. Her heart was broken. She wasn’t sure how she would carry on but she found comfort in what would be close to the last words he uttered on earth.
"On the day before he left me," she wrote, "I was leaning over him, kissing and petting his face. He said, ‘I love you’ and I reassured him over and over of my love."
As he drifted away from her, he smiled weakly and asked, "Can we start all over again?"
That breaks my heart. Hers, too.