My wife and I are still learning about marriage.
Bertha and I were both 76 years old when we married. I’m five months older than she.
But don’t take that the wrong way. In no way are we old. We are not infirmed, crippled (thank the Lord!), or elderly. We both still work. She teaches English for a local community college and teaches online for a Christian university in Indiana. I’m retired, but always on the go to preach and sketch people for events. I write (blogs, books, articles for various publications) and watch a lot of sports on television (and she’s all right with that!).
We are loving our lives.
Bertha and I were each married 52 years, she to Pastor Gary Fagan, and I to Margaret Ann Henderson. God took Gary to Heaven in May of 2014 and Margaret eight months later. Bertha and I met in February of 2016, and were married a year later.
When Margaret and I married, she was just short of 20 and I was 22. We were both children with hardly a clue what we were doing. An accounting of the mistakes we made would fill an encyclopedia. I’ve not asked Bertha about her and Gary who married about the same time. But I’m confident she’s a different person now from the 22-year-old who stood beside Gary and took the vows.
Who wouldn’t be different? We live and learn.
So, this marriage will be vastly different from the first, in every way you can imagine.
We’ve talked this out again and again. It’s always an open subject since we are constantly wanting to make this marriage everything it can and should be. Here are some areas we’ve agreed on…at least as of today. (smiling)
One. We will never compare spouses.
We’re 20 months into marriage and are holding to this. We honor Gary and Margaret.
Two. But we will feel free to remember and share stories.
It helps that I went to seminary with Gary and knew him for a half-century, although neither of us knew the other’s family. I liked him. I have nothing but respect for this good brother and the wonderful way he served the Lord all his adult life, starting with his conversion as a 15-year-old in Youth For Christ. I’ve promised Bertha’s children Lari and Jeff that I will never dishonor the memory of their father. Bertha feels the same way toward Margaret. (Margaret would love her, although she might just be suspicious at first. “Can anyone be that sweet and kind?” Yep. She is.)
Three. It’s perfectly fine to repeat some of the stories you have already told. Hey, we’re seniors. Repeating is what we do best!
Four. Give me a few minutes to get ready to meet the day.
The real “you” (or “me”), we have agreed, is not the one staring at you in the mirror when you walk into the bathroom to begin the day, or the one just waking up in the bed. The real you is when you are showered and dressed and made up and ready to greet the world.
Five. Be prepared for slip-ups. We will slip and call the other Gary or Margaret once in a while. Everyone does this, we’re told.
And when we get something wrong or transgress in some way, we tell the other and apologize. Although invariably, the other laughs it off. It would appear we are two stable, well-adjusted adults. And how wonderful is that!
Six. We try not to regret too much, although some is natural.
You are not the same person who married as a 22 year old. You are actually a better person now than you were then. You are not going to make the same mistakes again. You’ll be a better spouse this time around than you were the first time because you’ve lived, you’ve learned, and you’ve grown.
Sometimes as I’m doing something for Bertha, my wife now of 20 months, I remember the first year of marriage to Margaret and wish I’d done this. But, hey, no one gets it perfect, so we refuse to spend time in regrets.
Seven. We sought help from several sources.
In the beginning, we picked the brains of anyone we found who had married after being widowed. “Tell us how you merged assets,” we said. One couple sent us their 10-page prenuptial agreement which they’d hammered out with a lawyer. Bertha and I made several visits to a lawyer to arrange everything so we can live the rest of our lives together, but when the Lord takes us to Heaven, our children will be able to figure out who gets what without a lot of complication. Our CPA has done our joint tax return and our banker helped us set up a separate household account.
Eight. We love to walk. We’ve located two or three parks near our house with walking trails, and we get by several times a week.
Nine. Bertha brought her dog into the marriage. Albie is my first “indoor” dog and he is a delight in every way.
Ten. We laugh a great deal.
Eleven. We keep getting surprised by the other.
She was surprised to learn I get a pedicure once a month. I was surprised to learn she never gets a manicure and does her own hair. In fact, she cuts my hair! Nice surprise.
Twelve. We both love having company and overnight guests.
Thirteen. This woman loves to work around the house, in the yard, as well as in the kitchen, and I love to let her!
Fourteen. We’ve started writing books together. Our first, last year, was Grief Recovery 101. And last week we corrected the galleys for our second book, Sixty and Better: Making the Most of our Golden Years. Now, if I can only teach her to draw cartoons!
Fifteen. We each need our space from time to time. She might say she’s going to the mall and return 3 hours later. Tomorrow she’s meeting a friend for lunch. I love the long drive in the country while talking to the Lord. Neither of us is threatened by the need for space.
Sixteen. We’re making adjustments on meals. Bertha loves to cook and can whip up a meal in a few minutes. I love to eat out. Often, on the way home from church I’ll say, “Let’s pick up take-out at Newk’s” or someplace. Invariably, she will say, “We could do that. Or, I have something ready that’s no trouble.” So, these days, once or twice a week, I’ll run by Outback or Primos for takeout. We get one meal and find it perfect for sharing.
Seventeen. We love each other’s children. When Megan, Bertha’s granddaughter who just graduated from nearby Mississippi College, introduced me as her grandfather, I loved it. My eight grandchildren–all young adults by now–adore Bertha .
Eighteen. We’re both readers but not in the same way. I might read several books a week and usually have two or three going, whereas Bertha savors a book, one at a time and in real time. She’ll read a few pages, then close the book and lie back and reflect on it. I tease her that if a story takes place throughout a particular decade, it’ll take her ten years to complete it!
Nineteen. To do this right, flexibility is essential. Many things will be the same as you knew in your previous life, but a hundred things will change. My wife Bertha is a great cook, but she does things slightly different from Margaret. Bertha loves to work in the yard; Margaret did not. Bertha does not like to drive, so on long trips I’ve got it. And all these things are fine. We just fine tune the adjustment features on our psyche. (Smiley-face goes here.) I do jigsaw puzzles and she allows me the use of the dining room table.
Twenty. Every marriage will be different, so we want to emphasize there is no one-size-fits-all formula that we know of. Bertha points out, “We had good marriages. And not everyone entering a new marriage will have healthy memories.” So, each situation will be different. Throughout all of the adjustments of marriage, we constantly talk to the Lord and share insights from His Word. We love to worship together. That, more than anything else, is the glue of this marriage. As Paul told the Colossians, “We are knit together in love” (Col. 2:2).