Wedding vows, it seems, have been around since medieval times. The English diocese of Salisbury and York had their own manuals for wedding vows. The first book of common prayer, established in 1549, used the Salisbury manual as the basis for its set of marriage promises.
There are no hard and fast rules for wedding vows. These days hardly anybody promises to “love, honor and obey,” a vow that smacks of an earlier age when such an attitude of acquiescence was somehow expected.
Most, if not all, wedding vows do, however, include the words “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.”
Of course on the day those words are spoken in earnest, the terms “worse, poorer and sickness,” hold little if no meaning. Wedding days are gloriously happy occasions, dominated by feelings of optimism, joy, hope and blissful ignorance of what the future holds.
But the day will come, rest assured, when the full impact of these words are suddenly felt.
I was really hoping to use Arnold Schwarzenegger’s line from “Kindergarten Cop,” when he complains that he has a headache and one of the kids says it might be a tumor, only to have Arnold’s character snap in his distinctive Austrian accent, “It’s not a toomah!”
Well, in my case, it was. The discovery of said growth last fall led to a battery of tests, treatments and delays, weeks and months of “for worse” around our household.
It’s gone now, the toomah, thanks to a couple of skilled surgeons, but recovery is slow and frustrating. It is the utmost of ironies that someone who is ill is referred to as a “patient,” since in my experience patience never comes into play in the healing process.
I am a whiner, I freely admit it. If I can find anything about which to complain, I will take every advantage. Likewise I will lash out at anybody within earshot when given half a chance when things aren’t going my way.
Meantime the lady who stood next to me 46 years ago Monday as we recited our particular set of vows, which we wrote ourselves, did not speak the words “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” We wrote our own vows, which was just coming into fashion nearly five decades ago. We termed it “in times of adversity as well as triumph.”
We’ve been fortunate over the decades. There has been very little adversity, truth be told, and far more moments of triumph. But not lately. Between the pandemic and my health challenges, I fear I have piled a lifetime of adversity on my bride in recent months.
But she hasn’t wavered. She has stood by me throughout, though I suspect she has bitten her tongue nearly raw. The lot of the caregiver is often, if not always, more difficult than that of the spouse, partner or significant other who is suffering from whatever ailment that is presenting the health challenges. Watching someone you love go through anything unpleasant is a double blow.
Weddings these days are big, splashy affairs costing thousands of dollars (or at least they were in the days before COVID-19). Undoubtedly they will be again when the pandemic fades into the rearview.
But a marriage, ah, that’s a different animal. A marriage is what happens when the dress is put away, the tux returned, the honeymoon is just a memory and you wake up one morning and look at each other across the breakfast table and realize that you are forever and inexorably linked to this person staring back at you.
For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” Not everybody makes it. Many marriages founder, for various reasons. In 2020 almost half ended in separation and/or divorce. I’m not judging, if I were her I would have kicked me to the curb years ago, or at least the last time I went on one of my whining jags.
But she didn’t, thank God. To quote New York Yankee great Lou Gehrig, in the throes of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in his speech to a packed house at Yankee Stadium during Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
No, that’s me. For better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health. Happy Anniversary, dear.