In just a few days, under the bright Maine sky, Chris and I will be married.
We’ve thought a lot about our wedding, about how we want to share our love with our family and friends, and what it means to formally recognize our commitment to each other. We think we’ve got a lot of unique moments planned for the ceremony. But one thing that won’t be unique? Our vows.
We decided early on that we wanted to say traditional Episcopal wedding vows. We liked the simplicity and we liked that we’d be saying the same words that so many people have said before us. This is what I will say:
In the Name of God, I, Marjorie, take you, Chris, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what these vows mean, because they mean a lot more to me now than they did when I uttered another version of them at age 25. Back then, my vows were simply what I said to get married, more of a rite of passage than words I spent time pondering. But now, as I prepare to marry Chris, I’ve thought a lot about each of these phrases. For better for worse? For richer for poorer? In sickness and health? These are big promises.
It also makes me think about the future and specifically my future with Chris. What will it hold? What twists and turns might our life together take?
In the early days of widowhood, thinking about the future was gut-wrenching. I hated the present, but I also couldn’t imagine how I was going to live all the rest of my life without Shawn. The future was about deficit and being alone. Even once I got to a place where I could imagine a not-terrible future, it wasn’t like I thought about some alternate reality that was great. It was mostly just blank, which was better, but still unknown.
Now, I see a future that’s full of possibility with Chris, but not from the blind vantage point of a 25-year-old. Along with the amazing times we’ll have, I know there will be struggle and, likely, some pain too (at least eventually, for one of us). The thing is, part of being a widow is battling the future. I know what could happen, I know there are struggles we might face. I get what it means to promise someone you’ll be with them until death.
I think probably all widows who remarry pause when they hear the “until we are parted by death” part. It’s intense. If I let my mind wander, I can imagine terrible things happening to Chris, an image I try to actively push out of my thoughts. What if something goes horribly wrong? What then?
I know I’m not the only widow who thinks like this. But damn – it can mess with your head. And this classic wedding vow, “‘Till death do us part” can seem a bit dark and dire.
But I’ve been thinking more about the idea of being with someone until death. Maybe there’s another way to reframe this phrase, another way to think beyond the dying part (which will happen for all of us) but rather to move the emphasis to everything that will happen before that.
I’ve been reading that phrase “until death parts us” over and over again, and I’ve come to this: I’m not going to focus on the “death” part of it. I’m going to focus on all that comes before death. I’m going to focus on the “until” part of it.
Yes, there will be hard times, and yes one of us will die first (not me). But until that time, there will also be backyard barbecues and Sunday afternoons at the pool and Christmas mornings and bike rides after work. There will also be graduations and anniversaries and parties until the wee hours of the morning. There will also be so much good life in there.
There will also be the “until” part. And that’s the part that really matters, even in the end.
Yes, married couples promise to always be by each other’s sides through the ups and downs of life, but even for widows, those marital promises were not (and are not) all about the end – not when we made them with our late spouses, and not if we make them again with someone new.
It’s not all about death. It’s also about the life we get to live until that point.