In Sickness and in Health

by NotDownOrOut

liebster-award

One of the duties associated with having been nominated to receive a Liebster Award is that you should name others to receive it as well.

I have read that some have named a single blog while others name as many as 11. Today I am naming two:

http://sarahandycancer.wordpress.com

and http://happilyhomeless2.wordpress.com/.

Both are written by wives loving a husband through cancer. Around the world today there are millions of husbands and wives giving care to a partner through sickness.

I am not married. I was once a long time ago. I am soon to be divorced twenty-five years and was married for seven years before that. I am not fascinated by the condition of marriage. I did not destroy my wedding photographs, but I donated my wedding dress to charity, threw my wedding band into the Potomac River, and gave my engagement ring to my niece because I did not want to see it in my jewelry box any longer. I do not watch TV shows in which women say “yes” to dresses and shriek at family and friends for failing to make a wedding day perfect. I can be counted upon to smile and cry during others’ weddings, usually because I am a little disappointed that my own wedding day remains my happiest memory in a good life.

My husband left me. That is unusual. I understand that women initiate about 66% of divorces. http://shine.yahoo.com/love-sex/women-initiate-divorce-66-of-the-time-why-do-they-want-to-get-married-567068.html. This is ironic when you consider how much literature there is out there for women who seek to bring a man to one knee so that he will propose, she can accept, and they can dedicate their lives to the accomplishment of the best wedding anyone has ever attended.

Many of my friends who remained married, many of them happily ever after, are now in the process of guiding children through the last years of a college education, through the acquisition of a first post-college job, or into the bonds of matrimony. There have been times when I have envied them their finger-painted-art-covered refrigerator doors and their Mother’s/Father’s Day celebration breakfasts in bed, but I am not envious of their tuition bills or the prospect of planning and paying for the best wedding anyone ever attended.

I enjoy Pinterest.com as a way to pass the time when my mind is fried and my body will not relent at bed time. But I confess that I am saddened by the number of racy photos of brides in lingerie to be sent to the groom on the morning of a wedding to keep him focused on the prize, the photos of tackle boxes filled with mini-bar-sized bottles of alcohol alongside make-up and hair devices in the bride’s toolkit, images of high fives during a post-ceremony kiss, and the snapshots marked “need this photo” for our special day.

I remember my wedding day with (a depressing amount of) good will because of what was not happening. I did not begin the day reviewing a checklist of poses that the photographer had better capture for my album. I did not have, nor imagine for a moment that my groom had, cold feet. It never would have occurred to me to send him pictures to review prior to the ceremony. I did not need a shot of liquid relaxant to walk down the aisle because I was anxious about perfection eluding me. I did not usher friends in front of the camera for lots of “must have” memories. In fact, I found the few photos my photographer staged for us kind of silly.

I just got up, got dressed, and walked down the aisle on my dad’s arm and pledged love to someone who was a friend and a lover. Of course, things did not end well. Maybe I should have cared more about the details. I suspect that is not what makes marriage work either.

I do admit to being envious of the brides who got it right. I read Sarah and Andy’s story because they read The Princess Bride to each other while Andy recovered from surgery following his diagnosis with stage 3B gastric cancer. When they wed they planned to have a family. They found themselves unable to have a child and unable to adopt one. They exchanged the dream of a an art-covered refrigerator door for late-night dashes to the ER following the removal of Andy’s stomach. Despite all this, every time I see one of Sarah’s postings show up in my Reader page on wordpress.com I smile at their photographs of post-marriage kisses taken in sickness and in health. I find myself rooting for the latest posting to disclose a landmark in Andy’s recovery. It’s hard to be cynical in the face of a good love story. Sarah makes me believe in their dreams.

In the blog Happily Homeless 2, Handsome Husband is not Every Woman’s dream. He’s already divorced, a recovering alcoholic, raising children. He remarries, this time joining his life with that of a woman raising children of her own. They seem like hopeless romantics. Both are so open to remarriage and the difficult task of blending families. It’s reassuring to know that once married, many men and women remain open to doing it again. But men seem a little more open to it than do women, ironic when you consider how men are perceived as needing to be dragged to the altar:

The perceived benefits of divorce differ by gender. Women were far more likely than men to say that having their own self-identity was a top reward….
…….43 percent of women said they emerged from the split against remarriage.
Only 33 percent of men said they wouldn’t remarry.

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=713110, quoted at
http://shine.yahoo.com/love-sex/women-initiate-divorce-66-of-the-time-why-do-they-want-to-get-married-567068.html.

In the case of Happily Homeless and Handsome Husband, you have two people who believe in marriage (and each other). They also deal with cancer. But, unlike Sarah and Andy who face it together while young, they deal with it at the end of a twenty-three-plus-year marriage while young-at-heart. I have not gone back yet to read the earliest entries in Alison’s blog. I found it recently and have read its latest chapters. Instead of talking about a perfect wedding, Happily Homeless describes a different type of ceremony. The gown is a hospital gown worn by the groom. The best man and other attendants are the couple’s children. The flowers are sent by well-meaning friends. The family and friends are there to say good-bye to the groom. The bride is dealing with the pain of life without him. I cried as I read of this couple’s happy ending, too. And I envied them even though they also walked a painful path because they held on so tightly to each other until parted by death.

What makes me nominate these two blogs for the Liebster Award is that the award and these two blogs are about caring. The bloggers discuss what happens when life gets tough and your partner needs you in ways you don’t need your partner. They speak of how you sometimes have to find balance because suddenly the ground beneath your feet is shifting. They tell tales in which no one gets by on fairy dust or magic. They are about the hard work in marriage. They focus on the relationship being built and maintained. They still have dreams and fantasies, but they have realities that test the fabric of their dreams and prove that dreams can be as tough and as flexible as rubber as it meets that bumpy road.

The stories of caregivers are what you cannot foresee when you watch TV shows about brides choosing the right dresses and bridezillas picking the wrong battles. Some think the battle is over when someone’s put a ring on it. Some think that they need their liquid courage to walk down the aisle. Some think that the beginning of a honeymoon is the beginning of life lived happily ever after. Some think marriage is about the right poses in a book of memories. Some begin the next day and days after it facing a whole new set of challenges. And the truly heartwarming thing is that some people make it! They (men and women) take their vows and find ways to keep on living them:

I, ____, take you, ____, to be my (husband/wife). I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.

I smile at weddings because they are the start of a venture that holds the promise of something wondrous. My heart may still ache when I think of loves that fail, but it is healed by the stories of loves that last when health is failing. I am grateful for the chance to observe people cling to each other proving that the finest in us is what counts, not the finery that surrounds us.