Granted, this part of the vows is not as optimistic as, “For richer or poorer”, but they both are in the same statement we swear to when we get married.
For many women (and hopefully men, but I won’t be so presumptuous here), when we take those vows this is the culmination of the chase. We meet a man, and if all things fall into our notion of what makes a “good man, and father” for us, we begin to think about marriage and the real possibility of a family.
My first marriage ended in divorce for the simple reason we grew up apart. That is what happens when you marry young and are separated for great lengths of time. I know I am generalizing, but I do have some hindsight to rely on. I remained single until I was 34, preferring to wait for the man who could accept me, for every part of me, including the fact I had a son.
I have now been happily married for nearly 26 years (next month). I married a wonderful man. He was the right man at the right time. Lance is an incredible man; brilliant, handsome, thoughtful and funny. He is my best friend. He is everything I wanted in a man, and more.
Lance has Muscular Dystrophy. His father had it. His brother has it. His niece has it. I knew it when we got married, but quite honestly it did not affect the love I felt for him. In fact I came to admire his entire family for the way they handled living with the disease. When I met Lance, he was still walking, as was his younger brother, Scott. His father, Bob, was too, with the aid of a walker. His mother, Sue, was the glue that bound the family together. She is as close to an angel as I have ever come to know.
In 1951 Sue gave birth to Lance. He was born with Muscular Dystrophy and because one of the symptoms of the disease is a dislocated hip, the doctors operated, using the best approach available to correct it. The healing from the surgery involved being in a full body cast, from armpits to feet, for two years. Two years later she gave birth to their second son, Scott, he too had Muscular Dystrophy. He would also spend two years in the same full body cast.
This all took place at the most advanced hospital, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She was so grateful for their medical help and subsequent care that she volunteered to work there, creating the toy room. While everyone else went home to their families to spend Christmas, or Easter, it was Sue who spent the day giving the hospitalized sick children toys. She was the female equivalent to Santa Claus. Not only did she give out the toys, she spent the prior year getting toys donated or, when giving was less than she needed, she would spent her own family’s money to make up the difference. No child went without a toy.
Now (2009) she is still the reason every child who passes through the hospital gets a piece of joy, no matter what the circumstances. Yes, at 84 years young, she still goes to the hospital three days a week, progressing to being a liaison between the operating room doctors and the anxious family waiting for news on their child.
But by no means does this excuse her from writing out a personal check to make up for the lack of donations in these leaner years, no matter what the amount. This devotion is a part of her.
She was recently honored for her 55 years of selfless service. She lives and breathes giving. She even takes care of her 98 year old boyfriend, this after the death of the love of her life, and the boys’ father, Bob in 1989. She is on the Board of Trustees for Children’s Hospital now. Just recently her children donated a Chair for Stem Cell Research in her name to the hospital.
Sue at her awards ceremony
All of this has been a working role model on how to handle the portion of my vows encompassing the sickness part. Whenever I question how I am going to handle my part I merely think of Sue, and I know how.
Fortunately Lance and his family have a strain, which is slow progressing, his father lived to be 66, finally succumbing to the disease when it affected the heart and lungs, both muscles.
Just over a year ago Lance had open-heart surgery. The Muscular Dystrophy already took his ability to walk away from him about ten years ago. Muscular Dystrophy is a weakening of the muscles. The muscles lack a necessary enzyme to build muscle, so they are constantly declining. This was hastened by the recovery period necessary from the heart surgery.
It is not an easy time, even for those who were healthy otherwise, but I heard few complaints from him...other than his inability to perform even the most rudimentary things for himself that had previously been possible. He wanted to rush his healing in an effort to stave off further deterioration of his remaining strength. Independence has been a priority for him, for both of us.
Lance and our dog Frasier out for a walk.
Though he did his best, the disease took a toll on him; even little things any of us would take for granted have become extremely difficult or impossible for him to do. His world is smaller now. It is also true of my own as a result.
This is where the vows really come into play for us. To be able to put his needs first is an overwhelming adjustment for an independent woman. He spends much of his time at home in bed, or seated in an electric cart for some mobility. I have to be his arms and legs often.
Those are the small things in the scheme of life; he still has his sense of humor, his brilliant brain, his movie star handsome looks, and his appreciation for his wife. I know in my heart he would do the same for me if the tables were turned. Lance is in a wheelchair, but he remains a stand up guy.
The way he has been here for me and my son over the years is honoring his vows too, whether the sickness is my son's addiction or the support I needed overcoming my own addiction, smoking. I love this man with all of my heart. We are richer than most.
‘Til death do us part...