In an article on this website, I told how Bertha Fagan and I met last February 15 and quickly came to see, in the words of Psalm 118:23 that “this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our sight.”
Making plans for marriage–at some point; we’re still undecided as to when–is certainly exciting and more than a little scary. A relative said, “I admire your courage.” I thought to myself, “Courage is the right word. It takes courage to uproot your lives, sell your homes, downsize your possessions, and merge your existence with another person for the last years of your life.”
It takes faith.
There are so many issues, questions to be settled, matters to be determined before we take that step.
When a friend or two suggested Bertha and I go for premarriage counseling to make sure we are covering all the bases, we surprised them by saying, “We did that two months into the relationship.” The counselor had us take a battery of tests. When he analyzed our answers and printed out the graph, he said, “You two are so well-matched, it’s not funny.” He saw no need for any further sessions.
At this point I feel the need to say something to family members on both sides as well as to longtime friends, to remind them that while so many things are changing, some realities remain the same….
One. No one is trying to replace Margaret or Gary. The Fagans and McKeevers each had marriages lasting 52 years. You don’t just close the door on that and go on to a new chapter. Gary and Margaret will always be an integral part of who we are.
Two. Nothing that we do means Bertha loves Gary Fagan or I love Margaret McKeever any less. Bertha and I refer to each other, not as “the love of my life,” which would seem insulting to these who were our life-partners for over half a century, but as “the love of the rest of my life.”
Three. I have promised that I will always honor Gary Fagan and have nothing but deep appreciation for him. After all, I knew him before I ever met Bertha. He and I were friends, although not of the close-buddy variety. We appreciated each other, and nothing has happened to change that.
Four. Friends who have remarried after long marriages to spouses now deceased say it’s natural to mention these loved ones in conversations. Some have photos on display in the home. Bertha and I will find how this works best for us. But there will be no jealousy or envy or small-mindedness. From the first, I have told her I appreciate Gary “for leaving you intact.” (Many a spouse has been left decimated by the death of their loved one. Bertha is a whole human being, functioning well, and with the healthiest outlook on life imaginable. I hope she can say something similar about me.)
Five. We are completely aware how difficult this change is for everyone. To suddenly see your mother or grandmother with another man–and not just “any” man, but a new husband!–calls for quite an adjustment in your thinking. Our children are having to deal with this. (Which is one more reason we are not rushing into the marriage.)
Six. To loved ones who might feel our marriage is disloyal to Gary or Margaret, I would say: Then, do you like the alternative? Do you prefer that we each live out our days alone? Neither of us have children who are set to receive us into their homes in our sunset years. And even if they did, moving in would be so burdensome for everyone. How much better for two suddenly-widowed people to find each other and join their lives?
Seven. From the first, we agreed on two big things: We would not live in either of our homes because of the memories, and we would never compare each other, positively or negatively, with our first spouses. This is a new thing the Lord is doing and we want to honor that.
Eight. We are picking the brains of everyone we know who remarried after being widowed on how to do this right. How did you do it? Where did you marry? How long did you wait? Do you have any regrets? How did you decide on merging your things? How did you set up your estates so you could live but that after you are gone, your children still inherit?
That’s one more reason to take our own good time. When some have urged us to “get married now; you don’t have time to waste,” we answer, “We don’t have time to get it wrong.”
Nine. We love each other, just as husbands and wives should. When friends come in with that foolishness about “seniors only marry for companionship,” we laugh. As Bertha says, “I have a dog for companionship!”
Ten. This marriage will be as unlike the first marriage as it’s possible to get. We were all scarcely out of our teens then (both the Fagans and the McKeevers married in 1962), had no clue what life held for us, and owned precious few assets. To marry in our mid-70s is a different ball game.
How many years will we have? What is God up to here? What will we see when we look back at this from eternity?
God alone knows.
“We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). That’s all any of us can do.
After all, “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).
We are people of faith.
I so appreciate every article you write. As a fellow pastor, I plan to file this away for use in upcoming situations. I have been blessed to marry older couples and your insights are spot on. May God continue to use you. Thanks for the insights you impart in each article.
I cannot imagine the courage it takes to make such a huge decision. After 57 years of marriage it would be difficult to adjust to someone else. I smile when I think of your happiness and the fun the two of you will have.
Marriage is certainly the route to take. I know too many people who are living together even if it is only convenient on weekends with grandchildren seeing their example.
Thank you and Bertha for having high standards.
I think it is just wonderful you have found each other and want to be together the rest of your lives. God bless you both.
Is this the Bertha Fagan whom lived in Selma AL and Gery was pastor at Elkdale Church. If so hello Bertha When you knew me I was Magaret Johnson and my husband Bill died Our kids were good friends. Congratulation on yalls upcoming marriage I go to Sister Springs Baptiat in Tyler AL. Joe was at our church last year for revival
It is indeed the same Bertha, Margaret. We had met a few weeks before I preached at your church. I even drove out to see the house she and Gary had built there. Thank you.
Dr. Joe, to address some of your burning questions:
I was widowed at age 54. My husband, Paul, was widowed at age 51. We met on a Christian dating site and instantly felt God drawing us together. We married six weeks later on a church campground in a playground’s elevated “tree house chapel” that barely held the two of us, the minister, the photographer and three family members. It was the perfect wedding for us, as we’d both had traditional weddings before, and we didn’t want to go through that again. We knew these three things: 1) God brought us together to love each other, 2) Most everyone thought we were a little crazy, and 3) We would NEVER recommend that anyone else marry that quickly. But it was right, for us. We’re coming up on five years now, and it just keeps getting better. We’ve intentionally permitted–nay, encouraged–each other to remember, honor, grieve, talk about and even continue loving our late spouse. After all, it is largely because of our relationships with those two wonderful people that we each have grown into the kind of person and marriage partner that we are today, and we are thankful for the years of love we were privileged to share with them. We don’t compare; we remember and are thankful for them.
Yes, it took some time for our families to adjust to the “new normal”, but their love for us carried everyone through, and very quickly they offered the blessing of their acceptance.
We merged our belongings with much the same attitude as that with which we merged our lives….Life is short. If you need it and want it, hang on to it; if you don’t need it, let it go. And our wills read much the same as they would have, had we remained single.
Regrets? None. Blessings and love, growth and joy, companionship and youthful delight….These are daily gifts to us from the hand of our loving Father. He’s offering these same things to you and Bertha. Please reach out, without concern or delay, and accept them gladly. Paul and I wish you and Bertha many years of happiness together.
Joe and Bertha, first I want to congratulate you. I think it is wonderful that you found each other. Debbie and i married in ’66 she was fresh out of high school. We had 2 wonderful children and were married 18 years when she succumbed to breast cancer. By that time the kids were 14 and 17. I was 38 and pastor of a church in Athens, AL. Some weeks before she died Debbie told me I would never be able to raise those kids alone and then live alone. She knew me. About 9 months after her death I met Jennifer while I was preaching a revival in the Birmingham area. We married a few months later and have never looked back. Jennifer has become the best friend my two children could have and she is the love of the rest of my life. Thank you for sharing these 10 points and they are spot on. I am going to print them off for use in the future. Wish I had these 31 years ago when Jen and I married.