I wanted to say traditional vows at my wedding. I wanted to utter words that had been said by generations before me. I stood in front of family and friends, and promised to love and honour each other, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health.
My lips spoke the words that my heart would have to live.
Our first few months of marriage were pretty easy going. There were unexpected things about living together: disagreements about whether the bathroom seat should be up or down, about where it was appropriate to cut toenails, and how the chairs should be arranged.
Then eight months in we sat in front of a doctor and he told us my husband had cancer. Those vows, I had blithely spoken 8 months before, thinking they would be for some far off day were suddenly real, in my face and scary.
Now I was to discover what it meant as a wife to promise in sickness and in health.
In case you’re wondering it is hard.
It is hard to wake up next to someone you love in the middle of the night and feel them shaking from a fever. It is difficult to drive them to the hospital for another round of chemo. It is tiring coaxing them to take just another mouthful of pills.
It is tough to kiss their lips and know you can’t kiss them better.
My husband went through 18 chemo sessions, a bone marrow transplant and 20 radiation sessions over 2 and a half years. He has been in remission for six months. We are loving being married in health. We run together, and travel, and I no longer wake up in the middle of the night just to check he’s breathing.
The past few years taught me how fragile life is. The knowledge of how easily life can end, punctuates every aspect of our relationship – even “in health”. Things I once took for granted now feel like gifts.
Don’t get me wrong, every day isn’t a honeymoon, just this morning we fought about how to make breakfast, but now I know that the dream of growing old together in rocking chairs isn’t guaranteed, so I grab the memories I have in the present.
Here are a few ways loving my husband on the “in sickness” days have strengthened our “in health” days:
Life is happening right now. This is one of my husband’s favorite phrases. We often say it when we have an option before us that we could put off till tomorrow but by doing so could miss out living right now. Life isn’t something that you can press the pause button on; it isn’t something that you can decide to start tomorrow. Right now, whether you like it or not, whether you like your circumstances or the surroundings, your life is happening. You can sit back and watch others live their lives, or you can realize that your life is happening right now, and stand up and say, “Count me in! I want to be part of all the messiness, beauty and flurry of life.”
Slow down. It’s easy to think that embracing life and making the most of every minute means you need to do a lot of stuff. That’s not true. Often focusing on the simple, ordinary things that both of you love is the best way to make the most of your time. Why not sit in comfortable silence with the one you love, go for a walk or share a favorite meal?
Make time, not money. While my husband was receiving chemotherapy I was holding down a full time job. I realized that every minute I spent at the office after my usual working hours stole from the time I could be with my husband. It became my priority to ensure that my work was done by 5pm so I wouldn’t waste precious time at the office. Unfortunately, illness often puts stress on our budgets and finances, but if you make spending time with your loved one a priority, you will never regret it. In life you will be able to make more money, but no matter what you do, you can never make more time.
Laugh often. Realizing that your time with a loved one may be short can be stressful for both of you. A great way to relieve stress is to laugh a lot. An added bonus of this is that research has shown that our memories are often tied to strong emotions. By sharing lots of humorous moments you’ll be banking up lots of good memories of your time together.
Enjoy what you do see. On our honeymoon in South Africa my husband and I spent a day on a safari. We were particularly keen to see a big cat or two. While scanning the bush for animals our guide told us that he’s learned the best way to experience a safari is to enjoy what you do see. My husband and I have transferred this wisdom into many areas of our lives, especially since his treatment has meant at times we miss out on things that we’d love to do. It is a reality of life that you don’t get to do everything that you want, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t fully enjoy what you do get to do.
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