As I walked into the lobby at Ingham Regional Hospital in the spring of 1993, Ema was sitting in a chair crying softly. This was an emotion I was not use to seeing from my grandmother. She is a stoic Midwesterner, determined never to let anyone know that anything could upset her. Clearly she had not seen me walk through the door because she was startled when I sat next to her. Quickly the tears were wiped away so that no trace of her emotional indiscretion could be seen and she began insisting that she was just catching her breath on a difficult day.
It was the first of many visits to a hospital for Gumpy's heart. It was the first time I had seen Ema so emotional. It was the first time I fully understood that their marriage was one filled with love, kindness, respect and concern for each other.
Growing up, I was a bit more accustomed to the adversarial parts of their relationship. We would joke that they should be called the Bickersons for the way they would go after each other. Never violent or hateful, just ceaseless nitpicking from both parties.
As an example of their voracity, my grandparents took Rebekah and I to Idaho to visit our Uncle Jim and his family one year. After loading the fifth-wheel and truck for a month-long trip, we drove for about two hours before the bickering started. He was determined that she was a horrible navigator and she was convinced that he had no idea how to get around Chicago. After our stop for lunch, Ema took residence in the seat behind Gumpy to keep the peace where she remained whenever the trailer was in tow.
What I did not know or understand then was the depth of their relationship. I might never fully understand it but I certainly know a great deal more now. Gumpy always enjoyed it when Ema would get dressed up for an evening out. He thought his Little Biddy was beautiful and that she deserved to have nice clothing. So when he would travel for work, he would stop at the big department store in the city he was in and buy her an outfit. He loved giving her gifts, even if they were a little self serving like golf clubs!
In private, he would rarely let on if he was angry with her. He did not speak ill of Ema and would not allow me to either. Truth be told, it was only the minor stuff they bickered about. When it came to big family issues, they spoke with one voice out of respect for each other. He would joke that when they got married, they came to a mutual decision. She would make all of the small decisions and he would make all of the big decisions. "And so far, there haven't been any big decisions to make!" he would say.
When we talked soon after his cancer diagnosis, he made me promise to take good care of my grandmother. He only wanted the best for her. He wanted to know his Little Biddy was in good hands. He was always concerned about her well-being, even if they had a funny way of showing their love.
The day I saw Ema cry, she was facing a lot in her life. The stress of making life altering decisions, the strain of watching helplessly as her best friend was in tremendous pain and the prospect of loosing her confidant had caught up with her. Frankly I am glad because I learned so much in that tender moment. I learned I wanted to be married to a woman who would be my friend, my confidant and my biggest cheerleader too.