Three Cliches, Including "Till Death Do Us Part."

Leave it to me to question the truisms that everyone says without thinking. (For some reason, I am still fun at parties…)

“It didn’t work out.”

I never understood why people would say this about a relationship after it was over. What was supposed to be the endpoint, which didn’t end up fulfilled? Is it that they didn’t “close the deal” by getting married? Surely they could enjoy their time together without having an end in mind. Did it “not work out” because they didn’t stay married until one of them died? Is a marriage that ends in divorce like the sound of a tree that falls in the forest when no one hears it? Surely those years together were worth something in this world, at least in the small sphere of your time in it.

Is it just that it’s one of those nonsense phrases that everyone uses, of which I have so little understanding or tolerance? Or is “it didn’t work out” truly contemptuous of time? Whatever it is, I always take a step back from any friend who says it. (Did I mention that I still have friends? ‘Cause I do. I’m not even lying.)

“Happily ever after.”

Who cares what it’s “after?!” Yeah, I get that you’re closing the book, so “after” the cover’s shut. What is it until?

On the other hand, we cynics today, we sophisticates, make so much fun of “fairytale endings.” What would be wrong with just plain being happy until we each individually (don’t forget, we all do die alone) fade out, hopefully in our sleep and at a good ripe age. So much contempt. Don’t you deserve to have joy? Wouldn’t most of us be happy to remember one moment of bliss at the end as the chapters shoot past our fading eyes?

“Till death do us part.”
How much do any of us really contemplate this statement? Gavin and I thought we were pretty serious about our love in the face of Death. We married in defiance of his heart problems and several near-death experiences. We requested that our friend Pat, glamorous jazz singer, sing “One Hand, One Heart” from West Side Story (“even death won’t part us now”) at our vows (and, um, “Like a Prayer”). And then we went to Mexico for the Days of the Dead (including a cemetery tour) for our lunes miel.

But seriously, who wants to fulfill those vows? We love to picture ourselves on the porch, white haired or bald in last year’s hiked-up pants giving lollipops to sticky grandkids.

But being the caregiver to a dying love, whether old or young? Recovering alone from the shock of a car accident? Romantic? Pfah! Research shows it takes 10 years off your life.

We cherish the Norman Rockwell picture of “till death do us part,” but none of us is ready for the Norman Cousins one.

Should I be pleased that death parted me from Gavin? I’m not sure. I did enjoy entering dating with a “successful” relationship (ah! There’s that endpoint!) behind me, and I certainly hold it over your everyday divorcee. And look, widowhood is a big part of my identity. (Today.)

But surely a marriage in which my husband died didn’t “work out,” did it?

Mr. Fresh says he hopes I die first so that I don’t have to go through this kind of loss again. I’m not sure how much of a kindness this is. I joke back, “Yeah, um, no thanks. I love you too, but be my guest.”

* * * * * *

* (I’m not endorsing divorce. I think it’s a grand waste and injustice 90% of the time. But seriously? Marriage and death? Not really on the same page for any of us.)

** (Is that time only valuable if it’s permanent? If we are mortal, shouldn’t our feelings be mortal, too?).

* * * Comments * * *


Widow in the Middle said...

This post really hit home for me because I lost 2 husbands within six years - one to death and the other to divorce. I truly thought that I would be immune to divorce because of all the grief I went through staying by my husband's side the long three years of his illness. When I remarried I took those vows with utter seriousness - that my new husband would be willing to abandon us and say "it just didn't work out" was so more painful to me than my first husband's death.

I think that those of us who have experienced death have a far more mature and honest perspective about marriage than the "untouched." I know for me that I was much more willing to deal with the "in sickness, for poorer" stuff than my second husband was. I have finally painfully reached the place where I can honestly say, "Too bad for him."

Supa Dupa Fresh said...


Too bad for him, indeed!
I do think we take some of "truisms" more seriously after living through -- all the way through -- them.
Sadly, that separates us from the world still.
How much can we ever go back? I'm still testing it. I suppose you are too.

Hope things settle down for you soon!



CCCCppppCCppp said...

"It didn't work out." can mean that after the initial excitement it didn't become something stable.


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