The Short History of Tim & Charlotte

We tell the story often.

It’s a beautiful story, if a little awkward.

On the surface, we look like a pretty traditional family: mom, dad, four sons, a dog and a cat. We go to church most Sundays, and we make the boys mow the lawn and take out the trash. We genuinely like each other, and we laugh a lot.

It comes up when people ask where we met or how long we’ve been married. It comes up when a guest at a party notices that my wedding ring looks more like an old-fashioned cocktail ring, instead of the traditional diamond solitaire. It comes up in the pediatrician’s office when there is a question about family history of illness or allergies. It comes up when we attempt to explain our complicated Mothers’ Day plans or why the tall blonde Christian girl is welcomed so warmly at the Cuban Jewish funeral. Or why the boys attended different elementary schools. It comes up in the context of grandparents and how a girl could possibly have so many mothers-in-law.

It comes up most frequently because two of our sons share the same name. The boys’ favorite explanation is to whisper: “maternal brain damage.” And then look at me sympathetically.

Sometimes, the kids don’t even bother explaining. They are amused by the quizzical looks that ensure when they introduce each other with, “These are my brothers, Michael and Michael.” Or, “Hi, I’m Michael, and this is my brother Michael.”

I don’t always offer an explanation either. Just this afternoon, for example, I received a phone call from a freshman at the university where my son attends. She and I talk about whether my son is happy at the university, what his major is and whether he participates in Greek life. She asks whether anyone else in the family participated in a fraternity or sorority, and I pause. The truth is that his mother was in a sorority (but I can’t remember which one) and I was not (my college didn’t have any), but the young woman on the phone thinks that I am his mother. In the interest of simplicity, I say No, which is true enough for purposes of that particular conversation. These seemingly straightforward questions often raise the issue.

So here is the short history of Tim and Charlotte: We were both widowed in 2007 (cancer and suicide), each with two young sons (ages 6, 8, 11 and 15). We met each other in 2008, fell in love and were married in 2010.

Most of the time, people don’t know whether to say I’m sorry, or Congratulations.

No, we did not wait until all four boys were in favor of our marriage, and yes, now they get along like brothers. Everybody’s picture is on the walls and the piano, and yes, that includes Debbie and Sam. Yes, there was a time when we had his, his, his, his, his, hers and ours therapists. No, we did not meet at grief counseling, and yes, we really did have our wedding reception at a local park with the In ‘n Out truck.

We feel blessed and lucky. Neither one of us expected to find love again, and here we are. I can’t explain it, but I am grateful. One of my own (and by “my own” I actually mean Sam’s) cousins says she thinks Tim and I were made for each other. Unbelievable. The road here was steep and rocky, to be sure, but absolutely worthwhile. There is certainly truth to the idea that once you have experienced sorrow, you appreciate joy. But if I told you I sometimes race the dog to the front door to greet Tim when he comes home at the end of the day, that would just sound stupid. We laugh at the terribly irreverent, and we joke that the widow and the widower never miss a funeral (even though that’s mostly true). I could never have imagined being so happy, but there you have it. We are together, and that is evidence of grace.

In the last several months, Tim and I have attended four funerals (see what I mean?) and a wedding. He was the best man, and here’s a picture:

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So yes, it sounds silly. But more often than not, I win the race to the front door.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And love,love,love.

In Celebration of Love

“Hey Mom — What are you writing about this week? Death? Grief? Suffering? Misery?”

My kid thinks he’s hilarious.

Actually, I’m writing about “till death do us part.”

Which is completely different.

The gift of marriage is all over the news these days, and for good reason. Personally, I am delighted. I’m in favor of love, fidelity and equality. It is one of life’s sacred blessings.

The first time I was married, Sam and I were in our early 20’s. It was much easier to commit to “till death do us part” when death seemed a lifetime away. It was hard to fathom what sickness might feel like, especially chronic pain or mental illness, when we were both young and healthy. We could appreciate poorer, because we had nothing but student debt. Our net worth was a big red number. Which is not to say that “richer” is the key to a happy marriage, but we did think we might prefer it. The fact of the matter is that you have no idea what you’re getting into when you say, “I do.” Only that the two of you have promised to stick together through all of it. Until one of you dies.

Sam and I met in law school. We sat next to each other in Community Property, Wills & Trusts and Contracts. I understand intellectually the whole idea behind the prenuptial agreement, but I never wanted one myself. I don’t understand getting into a marriage from which I already think I might need an exit strategy. I appreciate emotionally the urge to control all the various facets, plan for future eventualities, to keep things neat and tidy and predictable. Like a flow chart, or an algorithm. But life isn’t like that. Neither is marriage.

I did a lot of things right and a few things wrong in my first marriage. We went out on date nights. We implemented a financial plan. We held title to our home in our family trust, which is only prudent in California. I trusted Sam completely. When he died, I had never paid a bill online, I didn’t know how much was owed on our mortgage, I didn’t know a single password to any one of our accounts. My mom literally handed me two 5-cent coins, because I did not know if I had two nickels to rub together.

She’s hilarious, my mom.

A sense of humor is key to life. And marriage. She has been married to my father for a long time, and they still seem genuinely to like each other, so they must know something about marital bliss. I’m happy, too — not just because I’ve benefitted from my parents’ example of love, commitment and faith — but because I am a girl who likes to throw a party. Just give me a reason. Or, as of next June, 50 reasons.

Or, better yet, 200.

In one of the quirks that is our blended family, my husband Tim and I have all eight of our collective parents and in-laws. Our children have four sets of grandparents, all of whom they call grandma and grandpa in one language or another. Each of these four pairs has been married once and is still married several decades later.

Two summers ago, we hosted a 200th wedding anniversary party for our parents and in-laws. That year my parents (the “newlyweds” among this group) were celebrating their 46th anniversary, Tim’s parents were at 48 years, one of our in-laws were at 49 years and the other in-laws were celebrating 56 years of marriage, for a combined two hundred years of holy matrimony.

That’s a lot of for better and for worse.

In case you’re counting, all those anniversaries only add up to 199, but we called it an even 200 and threw a party. Just for the record, the following summer it was 203, and this summer they hit 207. There’s more to marriage than math, but those are some compelling numbers. That’s a lot of love, honor and cherish. I’m not saying that marriage is always sunshine and champagne, but when storms are brewing and the chocolate is running dangerously low, these parents of ours believe and hope and pray and love their way through. Together. What an amazing legacy for our children.

And for us.

Because the second time around, Tim and I knew — even more so than our parents — what “till death do us part” looks like. In fact, the only thing we argue about consistently is which one of us will die first next time. We know a little of the for better and for worse of this life. And somehow, miraculously, we have found each other and committed to each other for a lifetime. When, during our wedding ceremony, Tim pledged “in sickness and in health,” I began to cry because here stood a man who knew exactly what he was signing up for. And he promised to love me anyway. It’s crazy, really, if you think about it.

Tim and I are much less likely to hit the 50 year-mark (an occupational hazard of having married in our 40’s), although I certainly hope we do. In the meantime, we will love and laugh and cry and pray and work and play together. Not every day is a party, to be sure, but we celebrate the little things along the way. We will have date nights and share passwords and a dark sense of humor. We will hold title to our home in a family trust and hold each other when Life kicks dirt in our faces.

Every once in a while, when I tell Tim “I love you,” he will pull me close and whisper, “I love you too.” Then he pauses, “Until the day I die.”

He thinks he’s hilarious, my Tim. And I do, too.

***

Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And love.