A woman, who is a close and supportive friend in my professional world, is dying. We have met in person exactly twice; once two or three years ago on a job site after she had recovered from an illness that could have killed her, and again over the weekend as she lay in a hospital bed alert but unaware.
She has become a close friend through hours of phone conversations. We know personal little details about each other. We have shared stories from our lives. We have griped to each other about the men we love. On several occasions she has saved me from a life sentence, while inadvertently saving my husband from a tragic and untimely end.
Her business partner is also her life partner. They have committed themselves to one another in every meaningful way imaginable. He has been instrumental in creating a family life with her over a period of two decades. He embraced her children from a previous marriage, watching them grow, arguing and yelling and carrying on over absolutely nothing, as only men can, quietly proud of their successes. They have welcomed casts of thousands into their home for holiday meals; last year at Thanksgiving they had 27 at the table.
I always assumed they were married. They weren’t. They got married last week. A marriage license is something tangible to present to the intrusive, outside world. It doesn’t reflect how much love comes from the heart, nor does it measure the fear and worry through sickness, or the emptiness at death.
On some indescribable level, I am angry that we place such importance on a piece of paper. Like so much in our lives, it is significant because we have been told it is. How is it that a lack of documentation can trivialize years of devoted action?
In spite of her illness, she is a woman first. Having been successfully indoctrinated to the prevalent social mores and romantic fairy tales, I searched high and low until I found a card to acknowledge their wedding. It is rare to find a card that doesn’t natter on and on about the future or many happy years.
When I visited her, she didn’t recognize me or a reference I made to her business. The card had meaning to her. She put it in front of her on the table. Their union permeated layers of pain and medication to rest in her heart and mind. She knew she was married.