by Laura Jeanne Allen
My grandparents were married for over half a century. From the time they met each other they played their own special game. The goal of their game was to write the word “shmily” in a surprise place for the other to find. They took turns leaving “shmily” around the house, and as soon as one of them discovered it, it was his or her turn to hide it once more. They dragged “shmily” with their fingers through the sugar and flour containers to await whoever was preparing the next meal. They smeared it in the dew on the windows overlooking the patio where my grandma always fed us warm, homemade pudding with blue food coloring. “Shmily” was written in the steam on the bathroom mirror, where it would reappear after every hot shower. At one point, my grandmother even unrolled an entire roll of toilet paper to leave “shmily” on the very last sheet. There was no end to the places “shmily” popped up. Little notes with a hastily scribbled “shmily” were found on dashboards and car seats or taped to steering wheels. The notes were stuffed inside shoes and left under pillows. “Shmily” was written in the dust upon the mantel and traced in the ashes of the fireplace. This mysterious word was as much a part of my grandparents’ house as the furniture.
It took me a long time before I fully appreciated my grandparents’ game. Skepticism has kept me from believing in true love—one that is pure and enduring. However, I never doubted my grandparents’ relationship. They had love down pat. It was more than their flirtatious little games; it was a way of life. Their relationship was based on a devotion and passionate affection that not everyone experiences.
Grandma and Grandpa held hands every chance they could. They stole kisses as they bumped into each other in their tiny kitchen. They finished each other’s sentences and shared the daily crossword puzzle and word jumble. My grandma whispered to me about how cute my grandpa was, how handsome an old man he had grown to be. She claimed that she really knew “how to pick ’em.” Before every meal they bowed their heads and gave thanks, marveling at their blessings: a wonderful family, good fortune, and each other.
But there was a dark cloud in my grandparents’ life: My grandmother had breast cancer. The disease had first appeared ten years earlier. As always, Grandpa was with her every step of the way. He comforted her in their yellow room, painted that way so that she could always be surrounded by sunshine, even when she was too sick to go outside.
Now the cancer was again attacking her body. With the help of a cane and my grandfather’s steady hand, she went to church with him every Sunday. But my grandmother grew steadily weaker until, finally, she could not leave the house anymore. For a while, Grandpa would go to church alone, praying to God to watch over his wife. Then one day, what we all dreaded finally happened. Grandma was gone.
“Shmily.” It was scrawled in yellow on the pink ribbons of my grandmother’s funeral bouquet. As the crowd thinned and the last mourners turned to leave, my aunts, uncles, cousins, and other family members came forward and gathered around Grandma one last time. Grandpa stepped up to my grandmother’s casket and, taking a shaky breath, began to sing to her. Through his tears and grief, the song came, a deep and throaty lullaby.
Shaking with my own sorrow, I will never forget that moment. For I knew that, although I couldn’t begin to fathom the depth of their love, I had been privileged to witness its unmatched beauty.
S‐h‐m‐i‐l‐y: See How Much I Love You. Thank you, Grandma and Grandpa, for letting me see.
Is there any doubt that this tender couple knew the joy that springs from true love? That they understood the meaning of intimacy and commitment in marriage? Through a simple message sent in simple ways— traced in a flour container or on the bathroom mirror—this husband and wife continually expressed their love to each other for over fifty years. And when the time came for “Grandpa” to face the world alone, through his tears he sang his bride a lullaby that told her one last time, “See how much I love you!”
So many couples today reach the end of their days without ever experiencing such genuine love—the kind that includes stealing kisses, finishing each other’s sentences, and holding hands whenever possible. They sincerely desire a deep, intimate love, but they assume it will just “happen” somewhere along the way. When it doesn’t, disillusionment and even divorce follow.
We’ll talk this week about true love—what it means and how you can achieve it in marriage. I’ll close tonight’s reading with this question: What does true love mean to you?
– James C. Dobson