Mamie Baird Magnusson, a wonderful journalist and writer in her own right was married to the broadcaster Magnus Magnusson. Their daughter Sally Magnusson wrote a moving and powerful memoir that charts the story of a wife and mother’s journey to and with dementia. The book is called Where Memories Go (Why Dementia Changes Everything) – just buy it.
This excerpt is produced with kind permission. It’s the advice Mamie gave Sally just before she got married. It’s some of the best advice on marriage I’ve ever read…
Choosing to change your life, having the choice of abandoning the even tenor of your ways, the familiar rhythms, the self-oriented hopes and habits, for paths unknown.. a future directed by considerations other than your own comfort and ambition or peace of mind or even just the whims of the moment – ah, that is an agony to concentrate the mind, torment the soul and sorely prickle a sensitive skin.
Maybe that makes marriage sound like a terrible trial to be tackled with fortitude. It isn’t anything of the sort, but it is a new adventure, and any adventure worth its salt has the spice of danger, of risk, of treading unknown territory. There is only one immovable rule as far as I can see – each of you puts the other first in all considerations. It’s a great system. You just exchange egos. He looks after yours. You look after his. His whims are yours. Yours are his.
I know you think you haven’t the necessary patience, or selflessness, or whatever other virtues are required, that it just isn’t in your nature to be calm and self-sacrificing and you’ll spend the rest of your life coming out in lumps in an effort to fight against your true nature.
Piffle! Balderdash and poppycock! You are the kindest, most generous, loving and affectionate person anywhere. I’ve never known anyone swifter at coming back to say sorry – I usually reckon about twenty seconds before a contrite head appears round the door, and five minutes at the outside for the telephone to ring in penitence.
And you’ll be amazed at how time and practice can cut those times down until you find yourself apologising before you leave the room, or even – Heaven forfend and saints forbid! – some day in the far distant future you might actually desist from saying whatever it is you’re going to have to apologise for the next minute.
But that will happen gradually, with age and maturity. Don’t try to change yourself overnight. That man of yours doesn’t want to marry a saint. It’s you he loves, with all your impetuosity, flare-ups, deep glooms, gushes of affection and pangs of remorse. Don’t try to change your nature, or even think it needs changing. It’s you, the Sally we know and love. All that’s required is for you to make, not an emotional change, but a quiet mental decision to put his feelings first at all times, and for him to do the same.
It’s the good intent that counts, and that comes from the mind, and we all know the power of the mind. Nobody is going to tell me that it was natural maternal instinct or some basic biological stirring of the blood that made me get up at the crack of dawn for twenty years to feed people and see them off to work when body, mind and spirit craved sleep in quantities that only Jon and I can appreciate. I did it because I made up my mind I’d do it, and I thrived on it.
You could have put this step into marriage off. You could keep putting it off. You could opt out altogether from this most challenging of all realms of living, with its heights of joy, depths of despair, its demands on resources of character and personality hardly suspected and maybe never needed in any other walk of life. Many people get through life without taking this step. Many would have loved to do it and never got the chance. You were lucky to meet the right man at the right time, and you made your decision.
What happens on your wedding day is a piece of theatre. Of course you make your public vows, but they are no more important than the ones you make in private, and which you go on making, every day, every minute.
In fact if you could just promise to love, honour and cherish for a day at a time, renew your vow in your own mind every morning, or every minute if necessary, it would all add up to “till death do us part”. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Just concentrate on today.”