My husband and I moved in together in May of 2008. Both of us were drinking a lot during that time, while living together and caring for our seven kids. We had no plans for marriage. We made a lot of mistakes, fought a lot, and were both pretty dysfunctional.
That is how it began.
In the last twelve years both of us have worked on ourselves and our marriage. We have come to love each other deeply as we suffered financial setbacks and the suicide of my oldest son Anthony. We have worked in therapy individually, both to heal from childhood trauma and to learn how to be better people: so that each of us could contribute to building a good marriage.
Nobody told us this part about marriage – about the work that it takes to heal and build a marriage that has a foundation of love, trust and respect when you have no examples of that growing up.
But here we are.
The fruit of all this work is us sitting in a pew at our parish – the one where we became Catholic, where all seven of our children received their Sacraments, where we were married and where Anthony’s funeral Mass was celebrated. In that parish we sat and waited for our first grandchild to go to her first confession.
Then we took her to Applebee’s.
Sitting in the booth across from our grandchildren and their mother, we laughed and talked about Anthony. We were celebrating Aaliyah, who looked up with a smile and twinkling eyes and said, “I love this. I love when ya’ll talk about Daddy.” It was at that moment I saw a reel of our life together in my mind: of how we started and how we somehow made it to this moment that was so normal, so Catholic and so functional; a moment of pure joy in the middle of so much hardship.
I had a moment like that once before, on the day that Aaliyah was born. I did not think I would ever feel it again. God is so good. Through His grace, mercy, and healing, I did.
This is the role of grandparents.
To heal from our wounds and provide a safe and sturdy place for our kids and grandkids in their life as they learn about themselves and figure out what they want to do with their life. To be the people who take them to Applebee’s after first Confession.
We did not get here alone.
My husband and I have had the support of a group of priests, spiritual directors, therapists and even a divorce lawyer who understood the Sacrament of Marriage and prayed for us to drop our divorce filing.
Her prayer was answered.
That’s no judgment on anyone in a place where divorce is their best option for reasons that are none of my business. I in no way think that anyone should stay in an abusive marriage. Life is hard and messy, and people are broken. Here, I’m only telling the story of my marriage.
It’s a story that has a big cast of characters.
We have a community that rallied around us when Anthony died and friends who still show up on the anniversary of his suicide to help any way they can, even if it is just saying his name on that day. This is how marriages ought to be supported. When they are, they create spouses who are capable of loving each other and bearing witness – imperfect but genuine – to the beauty of the Sacrament.
You’ll get none of the false narrative that it is easy or always joyful, not from me, but it is always worth it when both spouses are committed to being better people and refuse to abuse each other. Maybe that’s a low bar, but it still takes a lifetime of work to clear it.