I wrote this a year and a half ago when my students were reading essays from This, I Believe, a book that collected belief statements from NPR’s famous radio program. We had to write our own pieces about beliefs we held and then discussed how our beliefs shape us. Today seemed like the perfect day to share it. Happy Valentine’s Day.
“Just don’t cry, okay Millie?” were the last words that my grandfather said to my grandmother before he died. He was 88 years old. In his final moments, he walked from the bedroom to the hallway whose entire wall was filled with pictures of his family. My grandmother helped him walk down the hall because he was having trouble using the new walker that the doctors gave him the week before when he started complaining about back pain that probably hurt much more than his calm, World War II soldier demeanor ever let on. He lost his footing, in turn pushing the walker against the wall and squeezing my grandmother’s hand that was holding on to the walker along with his. Tears began to form in my grandmother’s eyes from the pain in her hand. “Don’t cry Millie,” my grandfather said. And he fell to the floor. My grandmother tried to shake him awake, “Jerry? I’m going to call 911, okay Jerry?” His eyes opened, he nodded, and he said, “Just don’t cry, okay Millie?” And then he was gone.
I, along with the rest of my family, like to believe that my grandfather wasn’t telling my grandmother not to cry about her hand, he was telling her not to cry after he was gone. He was telling her she would be okay without him. He was telling her that he loved her more than anything, and that he wanted her to be happy even though he wouldn’t be with her anymore.
I believe in true love. And I believe in it because of the love that my grandparents shared. It was clear from the words he chose to say in his last breath that my grandfather cared deeply for my grandmother, that her wellbeing and her happiness far outweighed his own.
My belief in true love does not just stem from his beautifully romantic final moments, but rather from the small, routine acts of love that they displayed for one another every day for 63 years. My belief in true love comes from my grandmother devotedly cooking them dinner every day and from my grandfather dutifully making a salad for dinner every single day, without ever having to be asked. It comes from when my grandmother would scream “JERRRRRRYYYYY!! What are you?! Stupid?!” and my grandfather would sit patiently and absorb her anger until it was done. It comes from the way that my grandmother always reflected on what a good man he was and how lucky she was to have him. It comes from watching my grandfather crack chestnuts open after Christmas dinner and pass them to my grandmother without ever being asked. It comes from their ability to tell stories together, and know exactly what the other was going to say. It comes from the quiet comfort they had as they sat next to each other watching Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, and the joy of creating a beautiful life together, filled with loving daughters who gave them wonderful grandchildren.
I once heard that true love is not Romeo and Juliet, it is the grandmothers and grandfathers who stay together for sixty or more years of marriage. I believe that Romeo and Juliet loved each other and that their love story that spanned all of three days was enchanting, but I believe more in my grandparents, who made it through 22, 925 days of marriage. I believe that love is patient, and love is kind, and love is sometimes yelling “JERRRRRRYYYYY!!”. I believe that my grandfather is watching over me. And I believe that one day, I will find a love as beautiful as the love my grandparents had for each other.