In the world of texting I.U. has become my family shorthand for I love you. Not only that, we also say it now when we see each other. I.U. JonJon, my 19 month old granddaughter says ya you. Although the three little words I love you are spoken numerous times and on a daily basis, it wasn’t always so for my husband. As I was to learn, it wasn’t something he grew up with. It was common place in my childhood so again, we didn’t understand each other.
Rene’ wrote a song for me early in our relationship. Three months in. It was very sweet when he sang it to me. Until the point in the song when he says he loves me. I am not one to dive into an affair of the heart. I am cautious. Those words took me by surprise. I wasn’t there yet and I wasn’t sure. Yet. The courtship and relationship had its ups and downs. Mainly I guess because of me. It is hard for me to give myself over to another person. I am very protective of my heart. In the end, after slogging it out, I decided to take a chance on Rene’. We were broken up for a time and I sat with his sister one evening drinking wine. We then made long lists of Rene’s qualities. The pro/con list. It didn’t take long to realize the pro list was incredibly long. Super long. He is a great guy. The question was, could I live with the con side of things. Short as it was, there were some important items on that list. It was decided, mainly by Suzie, that I call him and give him a chance. I knew if I called it was only a matter of time until we were married. Two weeks later we were engaged and we were married 7 months later.
It wasn’t the fairy tale romance. I was in University and classes took a lot of time. Planning a wedding was not something I was into nor did I have the time. Rene picked out the invitations, the china pattern and the silverware. We argued about pretty much everything. I became a bystander in the entire event as decisions were made around me. I felt I had no say. In a weird bizzarro world, Rene’ and his Mom took control. I was second guessing the decision as the date drew near and as I stood at the rear of the church with my parents I struggled to breathe and told my parents I didn’t think I could go through with it. What if Rene’ was a total jerk. What if he changed. Maybe he was a closet wife beater. Anything could happen. I was frantic. I felt sick. My Dad reminded me how much the affair was costing him and made it clear I was getting married. I turned to my Mom for support. She hugged me and told me we had such a beautiful day planned we should enjoy. And then she whispered in my ear, if I still was unsure come Monday we would do something about it. The weight lifted. All was well. My Mom had just given me an out. I could have it annulled! And we all waltzed down the aisle. That Ditte. She always knew the right thing to say to get her way. In the end we stayed married. It wasn’t clear sailing and we had lots of bumps and lumps. Sometimes when I was down I wondered why God made things easier for some people and we had so many trials. Rene’ pointed out that perhaps those people couldn’t handle much so their burdens were lighter. We were broke. Had trouble having a baby. Miscarriages. Couldn’t afford a house. Drove old beater cars. Struggled getting jobs even with educations. It was a tough go. And then as time went by good things happened. Better jobs came our way. Kids came. Everything came. Not fast and not easy. And then one day our baby died. And I asked Rene’ “Do you ever think why me?” And he answered “No. I think why not me”. Through it all we grew closer and closer. Two total opposite people, just young kids, making their way.
He told me once that when we got married we became each others best friend. I was young and found it kind of silly. Best friends? In reality that is what we were. He did not date lightly. He was quite sure about me before he even asked me out. He knew in his heart I was the one he wanted in his life forever. It took me longer. Always holding back just a little. Demanding his commitment. As he is fond of saying “Mistakes were made!” He was just a dumb young guy and he messed up at every turn. I however, had a long memory. Unable to let go of hurts until we worked them out. He was uncomfortable with confrontation. Through time we learned to fight in our own way. A talking way. We came to understand that our pasts contributed so much to our actions. Most of our misunderstandings were just that. Misunderstandings. What drew us closest was our need for privacy. Two lone wolves, living in the same house. We aren’t much for group stuff. Trips with other couples. Not our thing. Trips with kids sports teams had us out together, avoiding the other parents. When our daughter travelled with a ball team we stayed in a different hotel. Showed up for games and spent off time golfing together or just hanging out. We were the couple at the hockey wind-up parties that sat together while the men were on one side of the room and the women congregated somewhere else. We liked being together. We became best friends.
I didn’t know if what I felt for Rene’ all those years ago was love. I knew he was a good person. And I know now he is one of the best. He has integrity. He is honest. To a crazy crazy level. I have helped to mold this man through the years. In the first episode of the show Roseanne, her friend Crystal says Roseanne is lucky. She has Dan. Dan is the perfect man. Roseanne responds that he didn’t come that way. She picks up a doughnut and starts picking off the sprinkles. She tells Crystal, “first you have to get rid of the stuff his Mama did to him.” Picking off more doughnut, Roseanne says, “Then you have to get rid of the stuff he learns from the beer commercials.” This happens though perhaps in a more subtle fashion. Only then do you reach a point in marriage where no words are needed really. Most of your life has now been spent together. Your hearts are content. Retirement is special. Rene’ taught me he was not responsible for my happiness. That was something I needed to find within myself. I am very fortunate to have had him as a teacher all these years. Insisting I needed time and activities separate from him. Perhaps a foreshadowing on his part. And yet in many ways I helped him as well. This uptight man. Whose greatest fault was caring too much. Wanting to make everyone happy when in fact he knew that was a task of Herculean proportions. Yet he tried. He learned to love in a way that was different from his own upbringing. In the end he made me realize I was always the one he would chose. I was number one.
Losing him has destroyed me in a way I can’t describe. The days pass and I fill them as best I can. In the beginning I would pretend. He is in another room. At hockey. The business of planning a memorial service seemed too much. I had ideas but the kids carried them out. The obituary takes days. How do you find the words to sum up the entire life of a man. My children want to speak about their Dad. The next day they cannot find the will to do it. They want to shout about him from the mountaintops and yet they want to keep their memories private. Finally the day arrives when we gather to say goodbye. He would have been so proud. Our children are eloquent and funny. The older grandchildren pay tribute with special poems and readings. The youngest and loudest of the family are somehow quiet as if showing respect for their Grandfather. Stories and memories are shared along with pictures and a special video. We have an open bar with lunch afterwards because that is how it is done as a Dane. And he married a Dane.
In the days that followed, kindness comes at every turn. The cards. The flowers. The food. The love. From friends and family alike people reach out in whatever way they can to help us through the pain. Suddenly I become aware of a trend. A pattern perhaps. Before the funeral there were stories and memories shared by all who knew him. Suddenly, there is surprise. Even by those who would seem closest to him. The many who didn’t know he was a religious man. The surprise that he played the guitar. The piano. His romantic side. His writing. His adventurous side. The private man. The wise one and the man whose word meant everything. His artistic ability. Pictures drawn. A first painting. The man who knew how to calm a 4 year old grandson. This man they knew, they didn’t really know at all. They knew a place in time. They didn’t know him. Rene’ left me with three wonderful children. Two son in laws he trusted to care for his girls. Eight incredible grandchildren who would keep him alive for me. Finally, something special. For me alone. He let me know him all these many years. By sharing his life with me he let me inside. He trusted me with his deepest thoughts and dreams. His fears. His regrets. Also the silly parts of a marriage as well as the craziness and painful parts. The intimate times. The private moments. The shared memories filled with joy and sadness. And of course the I.U.’s. So many years ago he didn’t understand why he had to say I love you so much. “You know I love you” he would say. To which I would reply “I need to hear it.” And I heard it often. He learned to say it to his kids after every visit, during every phone call and with every text. And as a grown man he told his mother. Before he died he told his brother. Every letter, card and note had a new way to say “I love you”. He may not be here but I feel him. And with every kiss and hug from my kids and Grandbabies I hear him. I. U. Mormor. I. U.