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What makes a life well-lived?

May 9, 2011

An acquaintance of mine lost his wife last week after a two-year battle with cancer. She was 36. They have 2 young daughters.

Standing in line at the viewing I was dealing with my usual narcissism, “what the hell do I say to the guy who just lost his wife?” I literally had no idea.

As this was the death of a young mother, the viewing line was long. I had 90 minutes to think about what I would say. As we passed the casket I still had no idea.

Rob stuck out his hand to me and thanked me for coming, I said, “She did a great job with you and the kids.”

Rob, who looked a little tired but had been incredibly gregarious to everyone who approached during the 3-hour non-stop viewing line, smiled a little, stepped back and said, “you know, you’re the only person who’s said that.” I’m sure he had heard a lot of condolences, I mean really, how many different ways can you empathize with someone who’s lost his wife and mother of his kids.

This exchange got me to thinking a little bit about marriage.

I’ve known Rob since I was a kid. He and his two brothers lived next to my cousin. I would often go over to my cousin’s house and we’d play Wiffle ball or football with all the neighbor kids. Over time, that translated into flag football games that we played late into our 30’s.

Rob and I were never particularly friendly to each other. Truthfully, I think we got on each other’s nerves a lot. Possibly, as were both vying for my cousin’s attention. More likely because I thought he was aloof and he thought I was boorish. I was wrong, he was right.

Rob and I married our wives the same year, 1999. I’m sure I changed a little after my wedding, but Rob seemed to change drastically. He’d come out and play sports with the guys far less. Instead, he was always home with the wife. Once the kids came along, he basically became a ghost.

To many of us still getting together on Sunday mornings, he had become the dreaded “family man.”

But we were wrong.

He had become a loving husband and father, not some generic cartoon of a dad.

His wife had taught him where the priorities were. During their nearly 12 years of marriage, she had helped him become the man he is, a capable and compassionate father, and someone who will be able to raise the two beautiful girls in her absence.

She didn’t know this was going to be how their marriage turned out. She couldn’t have predicted her death. She simply acted in the best interests of the family, all the time. And she helped Rob to do the same.

Rob is a better man today for having married Jane. Their daughters are benefiting not only from being born, but from having parents who took responsibility for each other.

This reminds me of a bible verse that always gets us Christians in trouble with feminists, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). However, it’s the line a little farther down people often fail to mention, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).

What St. Paul is trying to tell us, is to be responsible to each other. It isn’t enough to “love” each other. We have to help each other. We have to make each other better people.

As my wife and I were preparing for our wedding we took part in Pre Cana with our priest. We would meet with him to discuss issues related to Catholic marriage. One of the first questions he posed to us was, “What is the point of marriage?” Jennifer and I looked at each other rather dumbfounded, neither of us sure what to say at this loaded question. I meekly replied, “to get our spouse into heaven?”

Fr. Joe smiled broadly and said, “yes, that’s exactly the point of marriage.”

That’s what Jane did for Rob, and I’m sure what Rob did for Jane. I’m pretty sure that’s what we’re all supposed to be doing for each other.

I think this message is important for believers and non-believers alike, we need to be responsible to our spouses and families. We need to make sure they’re prepared for life with and without us, for their sake, the sake of any children and the community over all, as children who are raised in responsible homes are more likely to improve their community than worsen it.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Don Dunnington permalink
    May 9, 2011 2:17 PM

    Mike – Judging by the comment you managed to come up with, I don’t think it was strictly narcissism that caused you to worry about, “what the hell do I say to the guy who just lost his wife?” Most of us don’t know what to say when nothing we say seems adequate. The fact that you went beyond simple self-centered worry and actually thought of something that was meaningful to your friend, suggests you weren’t just thinking about yourself. Thanks for taking time from your thesis-imposed blog “hiatus” to write this thoughtful essay on the meaning of life in marriage. It’s clear the women in your life, and your church, have made you a better man. It’s a lucky man who receives, and accepts those gifts.

    • May 9, 2011 7:44 PM

      Thank you for the kind words. Yes, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of wise women who have helped me mature.

  2. Erin hensh permalink
    May 9, 2011 5:08 PM

    That was really nice, Mike but sobbing through your blog is not my idea of a good time… I’ll keep ur friend and his family in my prayers.

    • May 9, 2011 7:41 PM

      Thanks Erin. Sorry for the sobbing, it was intended to be a positive outlook on a tragic story. I promise, more ranty humor in the future.

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