By Anne Gagliano
It’s August 31st, and it’s me and my husband Mike’s 34th wedding anniversary. How have we celebrated these many years? We delight when we can actually spend the day together, but as firefighter couples soon learn, that can’t always happen. We have celebrated many holidays and anniversaries on surrounding days, depending on his shift. The date doesn’t matter so much, but the remembrance surely does. Adaptability, I suppose, is lesson #1 for the firefighter marriage. Roll with it, baby. Just roll.
In my previous column, I wrote that I get very sentimental each August as I contemplate all that we’ve been through, all that we’ve witnessed, and all that we’ve shared. Have we kept the vows we made to each other so many years ago? Yes, and then some. The then some is the stuff we didn’t realize we were committing to; no one tells young couples such things on a wedding day. And besides, these rambling truths wouldn’t fit into the confines of a wedding ceremony.
After years of living together, the simpler things we’ve discovered are known as “tips” for a happy marriage, or little bits of wisdom imparted by the experienced to the inexperienced. I’ve given a lot of tips. But the more complex truths are called lessons. Lessons are something different, something a bit more, and often hard learned over long periods of time or gained through shorter bitter ones. We’ve gleaned our share; mostly good, some bad, and a few we wish we hadn’t experienced at all. So, here goes 34 years’ worth of lessons learned, one for each year of our journey. The first 17 can be found in Part 1—here are the remaining 17. I hope they help other couples who seek some wisdom from older folks like us. They’re in no particular order, just written precisely as they came to me:
- We’ve become so intertwined after more than three decades together that I can’t remember if the stories are his, mine, or ours. We’ve heard them and shared them so many times that we literally can’t remember. It’s like we were there, even when we weren’t. That’s how well we know each other.
- We not only finish each other’s sentences; we now read each other’s minds and even feel each other’s pain. With just a glance, we know precisely what the other is thinking. And feeling.
- We react differently to the same things. What used to make us laugh now often makes us cry, and vice versa. What once scared us no longer holds any power. Our expectations have changed, and we’ve become truly satisfied with less, much less.
- Traveling has become more fun, much easier, yet incredibly more exhausting. We love it more, have become quite efficient and less stressed by it, but our bodies take longer than ever to recover.
- The harder the task, the more worth-it it proves to be. This is helpful to remember at the front end when it seems oh-so-hard to get moving.
- Helping others is more satisfying than simply doing for ourselves. Corny but true. No, really, it’s true.
- Little kids and dogs: the two greatest sources of purest, unbridled joy. Nothing touches the heart quite like the unconditional love of a small child or a trusting, loyal pet. Nothing.
- We connect more easily with other firefighters and their spouses than we do with anyone else. It’s an instant bond, a like-mindedness that only other first-responders truly understand; acerbic wit, stoicism, and a desire to serve. My retired firefighter will always crave the firehouse for this reason, always.
- Writing (or creating) keeps the mind sharper than anything else. Shopping, cleaning, household projects—these keep you moving, but not do not make you shrewd, savvy, or engaged. So, keep creating, no matter your age.
- Possessions are wonderful. Experiences are better. It’s the cool things you do, see, and live that you truly remember. The stuff? Not so much.
- Life is good with just a full night’s sleep, a satisfying meal, a fun movie, and a long hot bath.
- You know you’re with your best friend when you can sit quietly together reading a good book. No conversation needed. Just a shared love of the written word and the journey books take you on.
- Trust grows with each passing year. With such a long-lasting marriage, we’ve realized ‘this person has kept their promises.’ They’ve proven to be true, over and over again, no matter the trial. It often staggers the mind that someone could be so steadfast. Reliable. Semper fidelis: always faithful.
- As long as we have each other, we really don’t need anything else. This one is learned through deepest pain as we’ve lost so many other things: beloved pets, hopes and dreams, relationships, and loved ones. It’s what keeps us going; the silver lining to even the darkest of clouds.
- We’ve found a groove. With age, there’s much less striving and a lot more confidence. We’ve survived against the toughest odds. I think we can start to say, “I’ve got this.” And even if we don’t, it’s ok.
- Our belief in each other gets stronger in direct correlation to the weakening of our bodies. The spirit is willing and strong, the flesh is really weak. But, I love you for your spirit, and it grows more attractive every day.
- We’re stronger together than we ever would have been apart. I can no longer imagine myself without Mike. So connected are we; so fused in body, soul, mind, and experience; that I can’t see where I end and he begins.
This is the best lesson of all: a lifelong marriage builds you up over and over again and helps you stay strong for whatever life brings. One may be overcome, but two can stand. Together, we’ve created something unique, our own story to share with the world, such as the upcoming 2020 calendar of our firefighter marriage book pictured here (with illustrations by the talented Lt. Paul Combs) which we just finished this very day—our anniversary.
We never could have imagined where our story would take us; through kids, the fire service, and beyond. We’ve ascended to the highest of highs and descended to the lowest of lows. Many of our hopes and expectations have been exceeded thus far, yet not all of our dreams have come true. But, we’ve been true, and that’s more than enough. It’s everything.
If you’re interested in my book, Challenges of the Firefighter Marriage, check it out HERE
Use code CFM20FL at checkout for 20% off!
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 34 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.