“In sickness and in health.”
I used to think that vow was for old people. At my own wedding, I remember fixating on the “for richer or poorer” part. That promise felt more relevant at the time. I was in school ministry and my new husband was finishing up graduate school. I figured there would be years of health ahead of us. Sickness wouldn’t kick in until we were old and gray.
But I was wrong.
A recent experience reminded me of this. One of my best friends from college suffered a horrific hiking accident. Miraculously, she escaped with *only* a broken rib and a broken arm– one that needed hours of emergency surgery, titanium plates and numerous screws to put back together. Selflessly, my husband took on all the extra household responsibilities and rearranged his schedule so I could travel to help my friend and her family of five.
At that time she needed so much help, her husband was by her side. In many ways he felt so helpless, but he attended to her with such grace and tenderness. He tried to make her comfortable. He kept track of her many medicines, brought ice wraps and refilled drinks. Selflessly, he changed her and bathed her. And, he did all these things and more, not out of duty, but out of love. One afternoon as he was dressing her wounds he smiled and said, “I guess this is what we mean when we say ‘in sickness and in health’.”
I have seen spouses and partners taking on similar caregiving roles. Accidents, cancer, illness, and surgery have affected many of my fellow moms. And, the grace-filled acts of care by a spouse are not lost on me. I recognize the hurting husband. I know the suffering spouse who has to care for his too-young-to-be-sick wife. I’ve seen his fortitude and perseverance despite his exhaustion. Because I am married to one of them.
A few years ago I went through my own period of severe medical upheaval and uncertainty. I was and am fortunate to have had my husband by my side. It was an extremely difficult time for me and our family. But, in some ways, my illness was harder for him. Yes, we had help. Yes, we had an amazing mom village. But the focus was always on me or the boys while my husband carried so much of the burden.
He was the one who worried every time he had to take me to the hospital or to another medical procedure. He was the one who had to deal with all the bills and health insurance claims. At every doctor’s visit, he was the one who advocated for me as we tried to figure out what was wrong.
He drove me to Indianapolis. He drove me twelve hours to The Mayo Clinic. For three months this man connected and disconnected me from my TPN feedings and made sure the line was sterile. He helped me shower. He lifted me up when I felt despair.
And he never complained.
He just loved and worried and prayed. He was patient with me when recovery was slow. And, he was joyful when I was well again. He did all of this while balancing work and dad-duty. And he did this because, in true love, he was fulfilling his vows. I am sure he got frustrated. Yes, he got angry. But he was never resentful. And he was never sorry about saying, “I Do.”
And so it is not surprising that, when we heard about our friend, my husband encouraged me to go to her. Yes, that is what a friend does. But, in addition to that, he understood what it was like to be the spouse. He understood the unseen ache and pain of the partner. He has been there.
If I could give an Oscar for “Best Actor/Actress in a Supporting Role” it would be to all of those men and women who have made the promise to their partners. It would be to the ones who have dedicated their lives to another person and have not turned away despite the sickness. They carry the burden. They witness to love. For them, and for my own husband, I am grateful.