(55 years, really, but married for 53)

We have been asked by good friends to elaborate on just how it is that we have managed to live together, love together, work and volunteer together for all those years. Makes you think….

We started out lucky. By that, I mean that we were both the products of solid marriages. In the days of our youth and young adulthood, divorce was rare, almost unheard of. Not that some couples weren’t leading lives of quiet desperation, would have probably been better off apart, but in our part of Nebraska farming country, it just wasn’t done. So, when we took our vows, we both assumed that forever meant just that.

For a good deal of our years together, we worked side-by-side. We established, developed, ran, and finally sold an accounting and tax business. Again, this was not at all foreign to us, since Mary’s folks owned a grocery store, and my mom and dad worked together on our farm. We also volunteered for many of the same organizations, so again we were very comfortable spending most of every 24 hours together.

If one were to analyze our individual personalities, there are many similarities. We have both enjoyed traveling extensively, we spent many happy years boating on Lake Powell in Utah, and, in our younger, less conservative days prior to retirement, we both loved the challenges and psychology involved in playing live poker. We mostly enjoy the same type of entertainment, music, and television programs. I say “mostly”, because left to our own devices, Mary will seek out the Home and Garden Channel, while I can be caught watching Mixed Martial Arts. We have not always agreed of a variety of subjects, but we have always communicated. Tolerance is a large virtue.

Mary is spiritual, I am not. We both enjoy the company of others, feel that we can communicate with just about anyone. Mary wants and needs the company and interaction of other people and groups, while I could gleefully become a hermit. I am, always have been, quite comfortable in the company of myself. We both delight in speaking to groups of people, but I, contrarily to the previous sentence, tend to enjoy making people laugh, being the center of attention.

We both despise bigotry, have little patience for stupidity, and have learned more and more to avoid those who are negative, who would tend to bring us down. Life, as I shall explain in a moment, is just too short, too precious. For whatever reason, we have both developed similar values, similar tastes, similar impatience with crude humor.

As is the case with most relationships, especially those of extended duration, our roles have changed gradually over the years. I was diagnosed with severe, chronic lung disease at the age of 55. Most lung disease progresses slowly, and this was our experience. Mary has years of experience as a Hospice Volunteer, and as the years progressed, she saw her father, her mother, and finally her sister grow ill and die. We knew that, barring some manner of miracle, the chances of my outliving her were slim. As my disease gradually progressed, her role as my caregiver gradually changed our roles in our relationship, slowly put more pressure on both of us. As I fought harder to breathe, she fought harder to help me stay active, to maintain a semblance of dignity and comfort, to survive. Caring for someone with a chronic, progressive disease is an incredible act of love. The years of my slow, insidious deterioration brought us even closer together.

Then, the miracle happened! After almost a year of investigation, testing, discouragement, and delays, I was listed for a lung transplant. When the call came, our only emotions were euphoria! We both knew that this was the only chance that we had of more years together. That prospect had served to push us toward the only available solution. On December 12, 2011, I received the gift of two perfect lungs. After 10 days in the hospital and a remarkably short recovery time, we find ourselves, at the ages of 76 and 73, still volunteering our time, still walking hand-in hand, still reluctant to be in different rooms for any period of time, still joined at the hip as we have been for over half a century.

Uncle Jim & Aunt Mary

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