We hosted my sister Courtney’s bridal shower over the weekend. In just six short weeks, she will walk down the aisle and marry my future brother-in-law, Riley. Both being country kids, the women in attendance had plenty of advice to offer Courtney and Riley when it comes to having a successful ranch marriage.
The words of wisdom passed along reminded me of a blog post I wrote when they first got engaged: Marriage Advice From One Rancher’s Wife To Another
Even though the blog is over a year old now, we still have readers chiming in with advice and personal experiences in the article’s comments section. Some of the most valuable thoughts have come from individuals who lost spouses. A spouse on the ranch is more than just a husband or a wife. A spouse is the best hired man (or woman) you’ll ever have -- someone who works alongside you every day, someone who is with you for the good days and the bad days, someone who makes your house a home and helps to make your operation thrive. I can only imagine how devastating and difficult it must be to lose the other half in a ranch business after decades of marriage and working together. Here are a few reader comments on the topic of love and loss:
First, Kate P. writes, “I know exactly what you mean. A key to a happy, long marriage is never going to bed mad, trying to see things through the eyes of your spouse, and learning to compromise or select the battles that are really important to you. My husband and I were married for almost 40 years when he died. He was quite ill the last 3½ years, but he always tried to do his share of the work. Although he has been gone for over 5 years, I still miss him as if it were yesterday. Everyone keeps telling me it will get better, but it hasn't yet. I was married my entire adult life. It is hard looking at myself as single. I get out to do things like rowing and square dancing, but it still has not fill the void.”
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Jeanie Braun adds, “I worked side by side with my rancher husband. We ran 500 cows, had 37 horses, and I ran barrels for 28 years. I opened at least 1,000 gates while my husband drove. I cut hay, raked and square-baled. My husband did the round baling. I learned how to doctor sick cows, deliver calves, and I wish I had it all to do over again. I am 65 years old, 5 ft. 6 in., and I weigh 115 lbs. After spending three months in hospital rooms while my husband was fighting cancer, we lost the battle. Today I have my memories.
“Due to the severe drought, and running cattle on leases, the cows and horses are a memory. Well, I do have two horses. I have taken to buying lottery tickets, as I believe I will be back in the cattle business. Now mind you I am 65 years old, but I feel like I am in my 30s. Ranching gets into your blood. It has been 11 years since I lost my partner, and five years since I sold the cows. We built that herd by saving heifers. Opening gates for your husband is a blessing. Never take anything for granted. I wish I was still opening gates. I still pine for the past.”
And finally, Been There Done That writes, “One doesn't know how important having a helpmate along is until she can't be there with you just for company and inspiration.”
Tyler and I will be married four years in October, so I don’t have the years under my belt to fully understand what it would mean to lose someone whom I spent a lifetime building a legacy with. However, the idea of losing my other half is painful to think about, particularly with a little one on the way and land and cattle bills to pay.
I think it’s pretty easy for us to take for granted our spouse from time to time and not fully appreciate all that person does as a part of a ranching marriage. A poem entitled “Denial,” from Patricia Frolander’s book, “Married Into It,” is a good reminder to tell your spouse how much you value their help and love. Here is that poem:
Our neighbor called it “his ranch,” yet each winter day found her beside him feeding hay to hungry cows.
In summer heat, you would see her in the hayfield, cutting, raking, baling, stacking.
In between she kept the books, cooked, cleaned laundered, fed bum lambs.
Garden rows straight, canned jars of food lined cellar walls.
Then she died. I asked him how he would manage. “Just like I always have,” he said.
How long have you been married? What advice do you have for young people starting out in their marriages? If you have loved and lost, what advice do you have for other aging ranchers who suddenly find themselves alone on the ranch? Share your stories and advice in the comments section below.
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