We promised to love each other in sickness and in health. Then life got real.
When we exchanged vows in August 2004, surrounded by our friends and family, amid a chorus of cicadas chirping noisily outside, we included the usual line about loving each another “in sickness and in health.”
You said those words to me, and I repeated them to you, but we were both young and in health. There was no sickness in sight. We had no idea that, 10 years later, an uninvited guest called multiple sclerosis (MS) would permanently enter the picture and permanently invade my body.
It’s difficult to describe all the ways you’ve supported me — that is, to say how I’ve been lifted up and held by you, both physically and emotionally. But I’ll try.
First things first: A chronic illness, especially an invisible one that comes and goes, means there’s no “in health” anymore, at least not in the conventional sense.
MS means that even “in health,” something is always present — a vague threat, a pesky symptom, endless fatigue. “In sickness” inclines itself toward a cataclysmic wrecking ball, an unexpected and sudden crash of the body.
Suddenly, MS came into our lives like an out-of-place tuba in a string of violins, a discordant interloper.
Back to the basics. You and I entered our partnership as equals. We both worked and both shared chores. Some nights you’d cook; some nights I scrubbed pots. I handled snakes in the basement (you, ahem, love serpents as much as Indiana Jones), and you took care of black widows in the mailbox (thanks to our first apartment in Nashville, Tennessee).
Whatever the arrangement, there was no expectation that one of us would do all the cooking, washing, providing, or caring. We were in tune. And then, suddenly, MS came into our lives like an out-of-place tuba in a string of violins, a discordant interloper. And my whole body fell out of tune as it seemed to fall apart.
You came to those first scary appointments at the neurologist’s office with me, and you held my hand as Dr. Reed blurted out my diagnosis.
You come with me still if I ask you to come.
You gave my family and friends updates when I didn’t have the energy to do so.
You almost get the cream-to-coffee ratio right when I ask for a cup.
You advocate for me and write down questions we want to ask the neurologist.
You pick up my slack. Slack isn’t the right word because I know you don’t keep score, but you pick it all up whenever I’m down for the count. And you take care of me as well as our boys.
You got better whenever I got worse. That isn’t to say you improved yourself, but when I thought you couldn’t be any better, you outdid yourself. You worked, took care of bedtimes, brought me meals in bed, and told me not to worry.
I was in excruciating pain, worse than childbirth. When I was reclined in a wheelchair, trying to get out of my clothes to put on the hospital scrubs before my MRI, you told me an absurd thing: I was your hero.
You, Ben, are mine.
Fact checked on April 25, 2022
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