Valentine’s Day: The Greatest Love Affair of Them All

Category: Weekly Columns


Love and Marriage was a classic Sinatra song. Its lyrics truly seem quaint and decidedly old-fashioned today. But, my parents lived a love affair that stood the test of time and incredible challenges. Their love affair was a model that was pretty hard for their peers to match and certainly impossible in my generation for both my wife and any of my married friends – at least those that I know well.

Mom & Dad, March 1992

Let’s face it, how well do we know our friends? Do you think they love each other or have an ongoing love affair? How many friends really open up and express – especially in couple’s situations – the reality of what goes on beyond closed doors. Ironically, and I’ve written about this before, I think if couples were more open with one another, we’d all be better off learning and sharing about our money, sex, in-laws, job, kid issues, etc. But, most of the time, people don’t expose their issues with others and that happy front encourages most of us to believe our issues are unusual.

Thankfully, we have reality television to counter than illusion. And, in my case, I had my parents to observe for over 50 years. They knew each other 73 years, having met at a lake in Michigan when my mother was 14 and my father 17. They were married 66 years, until my father died at 90. My mother lived another year or so in despair, for the most part, taking some comfort from her one son and my two boys – her only grandchildren. Their marriage was the epitome of a love affair, in every sense of the words.

Mom (June) as beauty contest winner as child

My boys did not have that amazing model of love that I observed my entire childhood and, from afar, in most of my adulthood. I saw a man that worshipped his wife. My father felt as strongly in love with my mother when she was somewhat disabled by a stroke, which changed her sweet disposition to a more sour one, as any other time during their decades together. His only fear about dying was not being around to take care of his beloved wife.

Theirs was also an old-fashioned traditional marriage in which my father was the breadwinner and my mother the homemaker. Their life plans included having a family of five, but as we sadly know all too well, we make plans and G*d laughs.

Dad lifting homemade weight with one hand

One of their very first challenges took place within the first couple/three years of their marriage when my mother got tuberculosis and was bed-ridden for a full year. She lost partial use of one lung and that meant her stamina was reduced forever thereafter.

But, the thing that truly tested my parents was the loss of two of those three “planned” children. To me, there is almost nothing more horrible than parents surviving their children. It just isn’t natural nor could it possibly be in G*d’s plans for us, though I don’t believe G*d actually impacts our daily existence meaningfully. That’s the whole concept of free will, a subject of which I’ll leave to the religious scholars.

Mom and Dad blowing out candle in Nectar

What is not commonly known is that the death of a child often leads to the end of a marriage. There are so many powerful emotions going on during that turmoil in a home and men and women grieve and deal with this tragedy in such different ways, that many marriages simply cannot survive such a loss.

My parents survived it twice.

A baby girl died, before I was born, at about eight days old. Jacqueline Kennedy also lost a child in the same fashion when the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck during delivery causing partial suffocation from which the baby ultimately died.

3 of us in Bellagio indoor garden #2 (better one)

At the time, my parents had a son, my older brother. Later, they had me when my older brother was 11. When I was five, he died in an accident – nobody’s fault – but lived on machines for a while, bankrupting my parents in the process. His death was kept from me in many ways since my parents were given, we all realized much later, very poor advice on how to help a young child cope with such a loss.

Not counting the many other challenges my parents faced, from financial struggles to ten serious illnesses and surgeries between them, the love affair never waned. The ONLY time my father and mother were apart for a night was when one of them was in the hospital. They had lunch together EVERY day. My father dutifully listened to my mother’s detailed description of her day at ever dinner meal. He spoke minimally but was enthralled by everything my mother did or said.

This Valentine’s Day, as with every year at this time, I reflect with wonder, awe, and longing at their incredible love affair. The wonder and awe is how they did it and felt that way. The longing is simply missing their smiles at each other and their presence in my life and their missing the growing up of their two grandchildren. But, I suspect they’re holding hands and watching us with pride somewhere above…

On their fiftieth wedding anniversary, I threw a surprise party for them. It went off so well and every detail came out perfectly. This was before it was common to video events yet I found a person to video it with those BIG video-cameras of the day. I did a presentation – a slide show – again, way before PowerPoints. Enjoy this marvelous tale and their love affair and the one remaining “problem” in their life at that time – I can’t believe how young I was once!

How about skipping that $5 Starbucks latte and splurging $2.99 (for the Kindle on Amazon) or $2.79 for the PDF of my new e-book? Enjoy my own informercial for it! This e-book is really a virtual journey. It’s filled with 100 photos, 7 original videos, and links to many of the stops on the trip. Click on the book cover image below to find your purchase options:

Low Res Wide book cover - The Empty-Nest Road Trip Blues

  • Michelle_Mazur

    This post blew me away. Looking at how your mom and dad just looked at each other you can sense their love for each other. Such a beautiful tale of love through adversity. Happy Valentine’s Day Bruce and thank you for sharing this story.

    • Bruce Sallan

      TY @Michelle_Mazur:twitter – I so very much miss them!

  • Daniel Alexander

    That’s a beautiful story Bruce.
    I think it’s sad that as a society we are moving away from that kind of relationship.
    It’s all about instant gratification, and quickie here and there.
    Hmmm, depression and divorce rates continuing to increase; I wonder if there is a connection…

    • Bruce Sallan

      Thx @daniel_dinnie:disqus – I agree, obviously. did you watch the video, too?

      • Daniel Alexander

        Only the beginning.
        It’s easier to read for now.

        • Bruce Sallan

          Trust me, you’ll be moved to tears…then laughter when you see the 2nd half Daniel!

          • Daniel Alexander

            Ya, it really looked great.
            I might watch it tomorrow.
            Got to hit the hay now, because I got to go to the DMV tomorrow.
            Turns out I haven’t renewed my car license in a few years, so need to get up and get there early tomorrow.
            My bad.

  • Jon M

    Bruce, A love story well told. Thank you. Love truly does help people through almost unbearable challenges and sets a great example. Jon

    • Bruce Sallan

      @ThinDifference – thx Jon, my parents set a high bar!

  • Leslie

    Glad you got to see 50 years of a dedicated / sacrificial love Bruce. What precious memories

    • Bruce Sallan

      Leslie, it was a miracle to behold…truly!

  • Annie

    What a lovely tribute to your parents’ marriage and, as you so graciously acknowledge you had “an amazing model of love to observe.” What a gift!

    • Bruce Sallan

      Thx Annie, but it’s an impossible act to follow!

      • Annie Fox, M.Ed.

        Just take what you’ve learned and do it your way, Bruce. Just send you an email, want to check it? 

        • Bruce Sallan

          @twitter-26638858:disqus – believe me, I do…could never be my dad, though I loved and respected him a lot. Did NOT get your email? [email protected]

  • dadofdivas

    This is such a great tribute to your parents…my parents were married for 40 years and then they divorced…it was hard, but I can only hope that all of us can have the type of love and relationship that your parents have!

    • Bruce Sallan

      Thx @dadofdivas:twitter – theirs is a model very hard to match!

  • ginavalley

    Such a wonderful video! And, a great tribute to your parents. Theirs was such an amazing example.
    When I was a kid I had so many grandparents, due to my grandparents’ repeated divorces and remarriages that I didn’t even know who was related how until I was in high school.

    I think my kids have a special gift in my parents, who have been together for more than 50 years now. I think it is so sad that only my oldest got to meet their granddad on their father’s side.

    It’s so unusual to have such longevity and especially such love and devotion as was evidenced by your parents.  Watching my dad take care of my mom,  she has Parkinson’s, is an incredible example of what love in action looks like. I’m thankful my family gets to observe it.

    • Bruce Sallan

      My parents had THE love story of all time @GinaValley:twitter without a doubt! I LOVE watching this video…but it also makes me sad ’cause they’re gone and my family is small…

  • Jennifer Weberman

    I loved this post and the video. I feel like I know you even better now. Your parents were wonderful people – and you were such a cutie 😉 Thank you for sharing this.

    • Bruce Sallan

      Aw, shucks…@twitter-434387174:disqus – said in my best Jimmy Stewart…

  • Musarratsyed

     It is absolutely wonderful explanation of Valentines Day & Greatest Love affair.Appreciated.

    • Bruce Sallan

      TY @ac98bffefc55d3e0182818456a2ab90e:disqus – my parent’s LOVE was wonderful to see and an impossible act to follow…

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  • David Weber

    Excellent story, very inspirational.

    • Bruce Sallan

      @7f990e539df4ddefe26884eb65a5f04c:disqus – your parents had a pretty good love story too, David!

      • David Weber

        They did. They were married just over 50 years.  In something of a turnaround from the stereotypical norm, my father “tamed” my mother.  She was the “wild child” who “mellowed out” progressively over the years after they married in 1950.  They were about 6 yr. apart in age and constructed a classically stable and, for them, fulfilling marriage.

        My father declared on many occasions that my mother was, in the phrase from the Bible (book of Psalms, I believe) a “woman of valor.” This is high praise.  

        On her part, my mother, has often said that my father — thanks to his wisdom, his patience and his fundamental decency — made her a better person than she ever would have been without him.  After the song “Wind Beneath My Wings” was released a few decades ago, she used that phrase to describe my dad: “He’s the wind beneath my wings.”

        I was very fortunate to have them as parents.  In the ’80s, I met several people who had a mystical belief that one chooses one’s parents.  I don’t necessarily disagree with that — the forces implicated in life and death, birth and perhaps rebirth, are best apprehended by mystical means — and if it’s in fact true, then I chose well.

        • Bruce Sallan

          Not so sure about the choice part @7f990e539df4ddefe26884eb65a5f04c:disqus but I can vouch for your parents’ love…and your mom was Dope when we were growing up! lol…