Wednesday, September 14, 2005

In sickness and in health...

Do you take this woman, to be your lawfully wedded wife, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, as long as we both shall live?

This is the phrase almost any one who’s ever been to or seen a traditional western wedding ceremony can identify as being part of the standard wedding vows. I think I’ve been familiar with these words since I was 5 or 6.

Growing up, I always hosted grand weddings – for my Barbie Dolls, my stuffed animals (usually Ms. Kitty was the blushing bride, and Ted the Walrus, who was shorter than Ms. Kitty but just as lovely, was the proud groom,) and I think I even once officiated the nuptials of my She-Ra doll to my brother’s He-Man figure. (Don’t tell Matt, but you should have seen the rock He-Man gave his very own princess of power, very impressive, even for a Master of the Universe.)

Bling or no bling, the point is that over and over again as a child, I would mock the words that priests, judges, and of course, brides and grooms say at weddings. “In sickness, and in health, as long as we both shall live...” But never did these words mean so much as they did when I saw my dad with my mom when she was in the hospital.

During about day 4 of my mom’s hospital stay back in February, she was feeling better, all things considered. The “suicide watch” seemed to be calming down, and she had made up her mind to fight the battle against ovarian cancer. But really, what choice did she have? The pure shock and devastation was still hidden under her surface, but she sat upright in her hospital bed with determination and dignity, ready to get home and ready to start her chemotherapy treatments as soon as possible. Sure, she had questions, but more than anything, she was ready to start solving the problem, as moms often want to do.

However, before she could go home, she had to gain her strength back. Let’s step back for a second and think of how active my mom is. She is a horsewoman, and though she knows how, she doesn’t mess around with English and polo ponies - my mom is a COWGIRL. She rides western, and she doesn’t stop at just jogging and loping the horse, but she does reining and working-cow horse events, where she makes her horse race down the fence, perform slide-stops, spins, AND runs a cow up and down the fence. She is tough. She is active. So seeing her in the hospital and bed-ridden, lacking the strength to walk without the help of someone else wasn’t easy to digest.

But, it was when my dad would help her out of bed, arrange her IV cords, and other various hospital devices in such a way that she could push her rolling-IV monitor stand with one hand, and hold onto his arm with her other hand, that I realized the true meaning of “in sickness and in health.”

Up until this point, my parents had been fairly lucky. Illness and hospitals were new developments in our lives – at least for Mom and Dad. But seeing the way he supported her, the way she leaned on him for strength, the way he slowed down his usual brisk pace to assist her slow, pained baby-steps, the way they seemed so in-sync with each other, like they could just carry on walking like two arms beating a slow and steady bass drum…Step, step, step, step. Their eyes staring down at the floor, conversing about the newborn babies in the hospital, how many chairs I’d snatched from the hospital waiting room so Mom’s many visitors could have places to sit in her room, or what flavor Jell-O the nurses would bring in her next meal, they kept up their pace with each step, moving forward. Once a day, then several times a day they would take these walks side-by-side.

I supposed this is what they’ve been doing for the past 40-plus years. You just don’t take notice of as many things during the “in health” times of life. That’s one thing that adverse times will bring – perspective and promise. Perspective on all the things to be grateful for - all the health you had before you got sick, and promise for all the health you’ll have after you’ve healed. And promise for the renewed vivacity that only comes with the perspective of having survived a difficult walk.

As long as we both shall live.
I do.