January 12, 2010

In Sickness

I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and health...*

Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other.
Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.**
The words you say at your wedding - the vows, the declaration of consent, the prayer, etc. - are worth some serious reflection every so often in the time leading up to the big day and after you've gotten married.  I'm going to keep saying it: this is no joke.  I grew up watching soap operas with my grandmother and older sisters and loved the romance of the big, fancy staged weddings.  But real marriage is hardly romantic.  I was disappointed to hear radio commercials last week for the local bridal show exclaiming, "If you can get through the wedding, you can get through anything!"  Silly is an understatement.
Signs of a strong marriage can be observed at times of adversity.  When you're at your worst...when you're poor...when you're sick.
In recent years as an adult, a spouse and a parent, I've developed a clear understanding and appreciation for my father's effort and struggle while my mother battled leukemia when I was ten years old.  And in the last year I have witnessed this same kind of unconditional commitment in several married couples living with serious illness.  It is both inspiring and daunting - Would I be that strong? Would I make the right decisions? How would I juggle everything with a brave face? 
A common denominator in the marriages I observed is shared faith.  When you're both looking at your situation with the same brand of trust, the journey is more focused, smooth and less distracted.  But ultimately I think it becomes more about how good a person you yourself are, and hopefully you have committed to a person who lives The Golden Rule and would be just as good a person for you.  Most of the time, only one of you is sick and while that one is fighting illness, the other is carrying the load of pretty much the rest of your shared world.  Someone still has to pay the bills, water the grass/shovel the driveway, do the groceries, make the lunches, etc.  But even with all that aside, that person becomes the first point of contact with hospital staff, taking a crash course in neurology, oncology, or surgical procedures and, in turn, the primary spokesperson for family and friends.  And then, of course, some become the caregivers, the doctors themselves.  There are late nights, sleepless nights.  It is a cocktail of exhaustion, fear and confusion but if you try really hard you can add hope, perseverence and faith into the mix.
This could happen when your marriage and/or kids are still young, or it could arise thirty-five years into it.  Are you up to it?  Are you willing to give all of yourself and all the love you have to your spouse when they feel hopeless and approach depression?  When their physical appearance has been permanently altered?  When their mental capacity has been compromised?  When their pain has stolen their smile?
It's at these ugliest of times that marriage can be its most beautiful.
*from the Catholic declaration of consent
**from the Apache marriage prayer

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