Once upon a time on a hot August day a man and a woman stood before God, their family, and friends and vowed to do life together despite what came. They were dressed in all their finery and their hearts were soaring with excitement and joy. Dreams were coming true.
We make our vows and we make them honestly and sincerely. If we’ve attended marriage classes, we’ve looked far enough ahead to realize that while a wedding is a beautiful, significant day, marriage is a life; a commitment to compromise, communication, and forgiveness.
“…to be true always, in good days and bad, in riches and poverty, in health and sickness, for as long as you both shall live…” We repeat these words or solemnize them with a teary ‘I do’, depending on whether we decided to torture ourselves by blubbering through our vows. We mean those vows. We choose to live those vows.
I am asked frequently to explain spousal caregiving. I’ve searched for articles that would help to formulate a reply but, apparently, there is very little. I found it surprising at first, until I decided to write a few articles myself. It wasn’t long before I realized the ‘why’ in that lack.
I find it difficult to express the realities of our here-and-now life. I can express in small ways on social media… captured moments and glimpses that are isolated and individual. To paint a full canvas, however, is to agree to shade in the areas of dark, ugly, painful, messy. I’m not afraid of those things. I can write them, but I hesitate to do so at times.
We don’t desire pity. There are many aspects of our life that bring us joy and laughter. We are bound up in grace and God has protected our marriage against the onslaughts of infertility, grief, chronic illness and pain. He has set us on a firm foundation which, in human terms, should have toppled years ago. This isn’t our doing. We are not in emotional squalor. Is our life a challenge many days? Indeed. Do we need daily support, prayer and love? Always. Pity, however, is not on our list of needs.
We haven’t cornered the market on suffering. I never want to give this impression. Ever. There are individuals and families and spouses going through intensely difficult challenges. We have learned that everyone we meet is going through something. We may not know what it is. We don’t need to know what it is. Even on days when the pain is high and sleep is absent and we want to crawl into a puddle of mud and weep, we do our utmost to remember the pain and suffering of others as we cry out to God.
That being said, there is a unique exclusivity to spousal caregiving that is often misunderstood. Spousal caregiving is similar to our journey with infertility… it’s almost impossible to understand unless you’ve walked in those shoes. I say this not to appear haughty but to illustrate that it’s okay that you don’t understand. I get it. This isn’t your road to walk, and that’s okay.
There was a time in my life when those vows of fourteen years ago popped into my head only on anniversaries. These days my vows sit quietly at the forefront of our lives, our choices, our actions. They are the insistent reminder that this life is doable because God doesn’t ask us to fulfill our vows without also promising the resources to do so. Our obedience and his power are inextricably linked.
And so, with the disclaimer above, consider this an introduction to a short series on spousal caregiving. I hope you’ll join me. I will strive for as much honesty as I can muster… both for your benefit, and for the loved ones in your lives who are facing spousal caregiving. I hope, if you have questions, you’ll ask them honestly. Let’s do this.