“In good times and in bad.”
It’s a promise we made to each other many many years ago while standing before an altar in the presence of God, friends, and family. In too many cases, these vows are merely a recited passage…a formality in the process of marriage. Stand here, say that, and kiss.
In good times, marriages are rarely put to the test. When everything is going right, the fairy tale endures. But when you’re getting clobbered from the left, sucker-punched from the right, pushed from behind, and restrained from the front, THIS is when the integrity behind those promises is truly revealed.
Over the past several months, our lives have been turned completely upside down. Financially, emotionally, physically, and personally, we are experiencing, weathering, and sacrificing more than we ever have before in our relationship. Stress levels are through the roof, every day is a struggle to maintain sanity, and it’s often difficult to drift to sleep when unknowns and “what if’s” continue to dance in our heads and challenge our dreams.
And you know what? I couldn’t be happier.
Because even though we’re struggling, we’re struggling together. Every night closes with an “I love you.” Every morning, every afternoon, and every evening is met with phone calls. Sometimes, we have enough time to share our day, and other times, we only have enough time to say, “I miss you. I’m thinking about you. Stay strong.”
Right now, our lives are pretty much on hold. The responsibilities, the demands, and the pressures carry onward, but doing for ourselves has taken a backseat. And I’m talking the WAY BACK backseat. Like that station wagon cargo hold where parents needed to hand out walkie-talkies to the kids jammed back there with the luggage in order to communicate.
THAT far back.
We’re fine with it. It’s what you do when you have a “family first” mentality embedded in your brain. For nearly the last two months, Heather has been by her mother’s side assisting in her care due to severe medical complications.
Actually, “assisting” is too weak of a word. She is doing it all. Due to untreatable kidney and liver failure, amongst other diagnoses, her doctors have explained that there is nothing they can do. She’s too frail for treatment and her body is too fatigued to endure any kind of radical intervention. As per her request, she wanted to be released from hospital care and spend her final days at home.
She cannot walk, so Heather assists her. She carries her from bed to wheelchair to the front porch so that she can feel the breeze of the outdoors, gaze upon the hills in the distance, and watch her granddaughter struggle to keep her kite in flight as she dances about the front lawn.
She cannot tend to herself, so Heather is there to carry her from bed to bathroom to make sure she’s clean, groomed, and feeling properly presentable as a good southern woman should.
She cannot feed herself, so Heather is there to cook and prepare nutritionally-specific meals and beverages. Always to order and always upon request.
She cannot deal with the immense pain, so Heather is there to take her by the hand, coax her into a better mental place, and administer the medications that help numb the symptoms from a body in the throes of shutting down.
She cannot care for her husband, so Heather is there to greet her father with a warm hearty meal when he returns from another harsh day on the farm, which is preceded by another harsh day teaching Earth Science to prepubescent out-of-control middle schoolers.
She cannot keep house, so Heather is there to wash, clean, launder, cook, mend, scrub, mop, sweep, and organize so that no one else has to.
There’s a lot her mother can no longer do, and Heather has put others above herself without so much as a second thought.
As for me, well, in a lot of ways, there are some parallels.
I cannot tend to myself, so when Heather does get a chance to come home, she’s greeted by a disheveled mess who borders on the transient in appearance.
I cannot feed myself if charcoal isn’t involved, so Heather has the pleasure of going through a healthy pile of receipts from phoned-in meals. Without takeout, I’m quite certain she’d have been widowed by now.
I cannot keep house. Apparently. I actually thought I was doing a pretty good job of upkeep but I’ve discovered that we have WAY different perceptions of what upkeep means. For her, it’s more of a Better Homes & Gardens meets Real Simple kind of vibe, whereas I’m fine with a Squalor Digest kind of motif.
I only get to see her once a week and even then it’s only for a few hours because she can only leave the house when a nurse arrives for a weekly checkup. This gives Heather a 4-6 hour window, of which three are spent behind the wheel coming to and fro.
In the short time she was here on Sunday, she took some of her time to clean what was apparently way unclean. The rest of the time was spent threatening me with bodily harm if she came home to similar surroundings on Thursday’s visit.
In my defense, I have three kids here. As well as a business that requires my full time attention. When Heather is here, I’m able to do what I do and get a full day’s work in. When she isn’t, my work capacity is slashed considerably because these children just cannot find it within themselves to accomplish anything on their own. For me to do what I do, which is a full time endeavor in its own right, AND do even a fraction of what she does, which is also a full time endeavor, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all.
So, rather than lose another half hour of work due to folding laundry, sure, I sleep next to a giant mountain of clothes. Heather was flabbergasted to see a teetering pile of clothes on our bed that included nearly every stitch of clothing we own, but it’s all part of my system. I wash the clothes, I dry the clothes, and I add them to what I’ve named Mount Laundry. When the kids need a shirt, or a fresh pair of socks, they dive in, root around for what they need, and emerge with extricated apparel. It may not be her ideal system, but it’s a system that works.
I will say that we have been absolutely blessed with support from some of our friends. Heidi…you and your family are like our rock. To take Kamryn so I could work? To arrange for a wonderful sitter who also took Kamryn so I could work? That alone should be enough to reward you with sainthood. So, thank you. I can’t possibly express how much you all mean to us.
I’ll fully admit that the house is a disaster but its condition isn’t rooted in laziness. I simply can’t divide myself amongst all the responsibilities. While it may seem reasonable to some that I just ask our kids to pitch in, they’re the ones behind all the chaos.
I have a 4-year old whose only mission in life is to interrupt me every five minutes with another “emergency” requiring my immediate attention. Emergencies like tattling on her brothers, watching the cat unabashedly lick itself, or finding Barbie’s lost pants.
I have an 11-year old who suffers from the same affliction as myself when it comes to upkeep. So when he does a half-assed job cleaning up a mess or organizing his room, we both stare at the abomination and shrug it off as complete.
I also have a 17-year old who is a charter subscriber with Squalor Digest and far too busy with school, track, and work to rely on for picking up some of the slack.
In turn, I’ve hired professionals. Our job is to keep the house clean enough to where social services wouldn’t remove the children if they visited, and JD Cleaners will come in twice a week to napalm the place and make it smell as good as they make it look.
While Heather’s mother’s condition is only one fragment of the stresses we’re under right now, it’s by far the biggest and the most important. Right now, we’re all in family mode. And while it’s resulted in a full blown all-out crisis, we both realize that this too shall pass.
In the end, we’ll be stronger. While I don’t think I could love her any more than I already do, I know it’ll make the good times all the more sweeter when they arrive. When it’s our turn to exhale, our turn to catch a break, and our turn to do for ourselves, we’re going to embrace every minute of it.
I have no idea when this will be, but when that day does arrive? Lord knows we’ll have earned it.
In good times and in bad. In sickness and in health. ‘Til death do us part. I stand firmly behind everything I promised that day and I hope she realizes who much I love her.
Heather, I love you. I miss you. I’m thinking about you.