Monday, January 19, 2009

In Sickness and in Health

Near the end of Mom's battle with cancer, when he was exhausted from caring for her as her dutiful nurse "for a thousand days and nights," my dad commented that a young, healthy, and hopeful couple really has no way to truly understand what marriage vows really mean.

For richer and for poorer. Blah. Blah. Blah. In sickness and in health. Blah. Blah. Blah. Till death do us part.

Dad insisted that the only way to fully understand the significance of those words is to live them, and that nothing can prepare a young couple for the days, the weeks, the months, the years, when those words are tested.

Even then, at the age of 40-something, I didn't really understand what he meant. But now I'm beginning to.

Two weeks ago this evening, when I badly broke my ankle and was told that I'd need surgery and then at least 8 weeks off my foot and many months of rehabilitation, everything changed and Tom was suddenly called on to do everything for me. From cooking to cleaning to dressing to showering, I needed Tom's help. I'm more and more independent by the day now, but especially when this first happened, I felt completely helpless.


For a do-er like me, that was excruciating. I'm used to moving at my own pace and crossing tasks off a list as I move from accomplishment to accomplishment, both significant and menial. Suddenly, I had to let go of my need to control how and when things are done and simply be grateful for the fact that they were getting done, willingly and without complaint.

I am bursting with gratitude and appreciation.

And embarrassment.

Take showers, for example: Husband. Wife. Shower. It conjures up a certain image, doesn't it? Yeah, for me too.

Now picture this: Wife needs help getting ready for her shower, and "please take off my pants" takes on a whole different meaning. She needs help getting into the shower, where she can't stand up. She sits on an invalid chair, flab exposed and shivering. She can choose warm water or lather, but not both. After hair and body are washed, but with no time to relax and enjoy the warm, cascading water, husband helps her out of the shower ("ready... pull!") and she's again exposed in the least sexy manner. As she pushes the walker in front of her, towel wrapped but bottom exposed, she insists that, once this period of convalescence is over, she'll hypnotize him to forget her like this because this isn't how she wants it to be.

But it is like this, albeit temporarily. Still, it will never be quite the same again because we have come to understand, like we never have before, the meaning of "in sickness and in health." We'll be tested again, certainly, as we grow old together, and the next test might be longer and more difficult, but we're in this together and now I'm sure, like never before, that we'll be just fine.

I so appreciate Tom's loving, dutiful dedication to me and to the vows we took over 25 years ago, and I know that if the tables were turned and he needed me to care for him to the same extent that he has been caring for me, I would do so gladly. It's not sexy and it's not fun and it's not easy. But it's love and intimacy and marriage.

Dad was right: a young, healthy, and hopeful couple really has no way to truly understand what marriage vows really mean. That gift only comes later, when we earn it.

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Betsy said...

This was beautifully written! Your ankle may be under repair at the moment, but your creativity seems to be doing just fine! :-)

Home's Jewels said...

What a sweet post, Carol. You definitely have a keeper.

Christine said...

Amazing post. The lessons we learn from hardship...

Sam said...

hmmmm - people do forget that life is not all sweetness and light! Mum looked after Dad while he recuperated from his stroke, and Dad looked after Mum after her hysterectomy. We SHOULD be there for each other, but how many get scared and run away!

Unknown said...

It is amazing what we learn about our spouse when we truly need them for everything. I'd say Tom's a keeper :)

Anonymous said...

That is so true! That long lasting, solid kind of love is everything we strive for.

Goofball said...

that's very moving. And I hope you are not like my mom when my dad helps and she comments on "how" he does things all the time.

I've been thinking of this too though when I see my mom nursing my dad who suffers from Parkinson disease and who gradually becomes more handicapt....dreams of far-away vacations etc are already far stashed away in the "impossible" closet. In December she spent all her afternoons in the hospital, now she's helping him at night to go to the toilet etc.... She often complains, she's often down & pessimistic, stressed and my sister and I frown our eyebrowns at some of her remarks.
Yet she loves my dad a lot and takes all her extra tasks for granted without much help for herself. I realise that my sister and I only visit and then go home where we live our own lives again with our distractions, jobs, ... But my mom can't escape. I'm sure we can only try to understand what it means for them, but don't truly get it even when we try.

Maria said...

I thought it was embarrassing to have Kevin lifting me out of the tub when I was 40 weeks pregnant... now i know there is more to come. :)

Betsy said...

I keep thinking about this post and just linked to it in my post this morning... :-)

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