On our wedding anniversary in August 2001, the Denver Post published my tribute to my husband. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share it with you now, followed by an update.
All the Little Things That Define Marriage
A pat on the backside. A quick hug in the hallway. The Morse codes of romance that you learn after you’ve survived the ritual mating dance.
Once you’ve spent the requisite time waiting for the other shoe to drop and then figuring out that it’s never going to, you settle into a comfort zone with your mate. Sure, the initial wild excitement and the giddy romance are nice, but they can’t hold a candle to the sweet assurance of love that has lasted for years.
Sly winks to each other. Turning up the radio for a special song. An arm slipped around your waist while you’re cooking spaghetti. These little things are what define a marriage. They’re the merit badges earned after you’ve passed the “now-I-know-all-about-you-but-I-love-you anyway” test.
While my husband battled a neurological nightmare for 18 months, he was with me physically but not “with me” totally. His illness robbed me not only of the strong man I had leaned on for all of our married life, but also of the little things I had somehow taken for granted. I was never alone but, boy, was I lonely. I didn’t have him to chat with. I couldn’t share my fears with him, because he was at war with demons threatening to destroy his central nervous system. Compared to his struggles, my losses were insignificant.
Holding hands in the car at a red light. Curling up in each other’s warmth to go to sleep. Walking into a party hand in hand. Little things. Until they’re gone. Then they become part of an intricate fabric that you watch unraveling and dissolving at your feet. You can’t even remember what they felt like, because you never paid attention to them when they were there. My heart goes out to every lover who no longer has those little things.
When we were first married, we’d snuggle together in bed at night, talking about our dreams for the future. When his symptoms were at their worst, nights were spent helping him to breathe without choking, waiting for his medicine to get him to sleep and then allowing myself to toss fitfully for a few hours before the sun rose. It was too much of a struggle for him to talk, so our conversations were limited to my posing simple questions that he could nod or shake his head to. I’d stroke his brow and kiss his face, but he had lost the muscle coordination necessary to return the gesture.
A squeeze of your arm. Ear nuzzles and a mumbled “I love you.” Telling really bad jokes. The unique signature denoting two lives that have been forged into one. While he was confined to bed, the toothpaste tube didn’t get squeezed in the middle, glasses weren’t left on the counter and I had complete and total control of the television remote. I hated every second of it. Trips to the drugstore became 15-minute races before he woke up. The pharmacist and I were on a first-name basis.
Tickle fights. A hand resting on your thigh. He fought with the heart of a champion for more than a year to get well. Success was measured in little things. Walking unaided down the hall. Sitting up in his chair for an hour. Driving around the block. Three hours without any seizures becoming three good days without symptoms.
Coffee in bed. A foot massage. We’re just now getting back to the little things. I treasure each kiss and luxuriate in every caress. I’m memorizing each snuggle. We hug longer than we used to. Today is our wedding anniversary. My husband is home and getting stronger every day. I’ve even given him back the remote. Please help us celebrate all of the little things that mean so much more now than before.
Right now, grab your significant other and give him or her a hug. Just because.
Now, the Update to Our Story
Now here is the update I’d hoped I would not have to write for many more decades.
My husband has managed to cheat death for 15 years. Since going into remission from tardive dyskinesia, he’s had shoulder reconstruction surgery from the near-fatal accident we somehow miraculously managed to survive five years later; a five-way bypass; a pacemaker.
I suppose the hardest thing for me is that he’s always been the “Energizer Bunny” of husbands. He’s consistently lived through things that other mere mortals shouldn’t live through. I keep praying for a miracle, but everyone (even he) says there are no more to be had. So, we wait.
This time, there will be no more “Walking unaided down the hall. Sitting up in his chair for an hour. Driving around the block.” The tickle fights and hand resting on my thigh are memories. Hell, I can’t even make him spaghetti anymore because of his dietary restrictions.
We’re slipping back into the nightmare of nights spent helping him to breathe without coughing, but there is no medicine to get him to sleep. Allowing myself to toss fitfully for a few hours before the sun rose would be a luxury that I’m afraid to take right now.
He can still talk, but our conversations are now “Are you going to miss me when I’m gone?” and “I want you to get on with your life”—although he is my life, and has been for so very long that I’m probably going to wander aimlessly for a bit.
He’s still fighting like a champion—he made it to what we both realize will probably be our last anniversary on August 26. We know that his pacemaker and three times a week dialysis are all that’s keeping him alive. The attending cardiologist said his kidney failure will kill him before his heart failure does. His nephrologist said, “Your kidneys have failed and guess what? You’re still here.” They both agreed that the overriding reason he’s still here is because of his unwavering resoluteness.
I’ve watched that drive and determination before. Even as I’ve watched him lose too much weight over the last month, gasp for breath after walking a few feet from the recliner to the kitchen, heard his once-booming voice now reduced to a whisper, I’m taking heart in him trying to walk instead of giving up and using the wheelchair, I’m treasuring every ever so quiet “I love you.”
Once again we’re confronting things that our complacency over the last decade and a half allowed us to take for granted again: bathing, shaving, sleeping are now two-hour ordeals instead of everyday occurrences. We’re being forced to live in each moment, which is not altogether a bad thing, I suppose.
Although he sometimes gets short-tempered because he hurts, and because he’s scared, he’s still channeling that anger into fighting for his life. I’m hoping against hope that he’ll make it to Thanksgiving, but the pragmatist in me knows I need to be planning for funeral arrangements when I really want to plan a holiday menu instead.
I know that all too soon the toothpaste tube will no longer be squeezed in the middle, there will be no more glasses left on the counter, and I will once again have complete control of the television remote. And I will hate every second of it.
But now, just as in 2001—and I do mean right now—grab your significant other and give him or her a hug. Just because.
This article is reprinted, with permission, from the author’s blog.