My husband and I got married in 1998 when I was 24; he was 27. It seems like a lifetime ago, but I can remember the excitement and anticipation I felt in the months leading up to the date we’d chosen.
Optimistic about our future, we went about the business of preparing for a wedding. We booked the church and the hall, chose music and a meal for our guests, and invited friends to be part of our special day. I bought a dress, he shopped for a tux and we planned the ceremony that would join us in the eyes of the law.
Rather than write our own wedding vows, we went with the “standard” language used in many Christian wedding ceremonies. You know the words:
“… to have and to hold, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part.”
Looking back, I don’t think I ever really understood what those words meant – it was all very abstract. Young and in love, I focused on the positives, as I’m sure is true of many soon-to-be-weds: “to have and to hold”, “for better”, “for richer, “in health”, “to love and to cherish.” All of that sounded pretty good to me.
Of course, on some level, I knew things wouldn’t always be sunny. But, at the same time, I didn’t really believe things could ever truly be dark. After all, we’d have each other. I knew we would have disagreements; every couple does. We did. I understood that things would inevitably be rocky sometimes. They were.
Here’s the thing: Nobody told me that “for worse”, “for poorer” and “in sickness” might all come at the same time, like some evil trio bent on destruction. And destructive, they can be.
Nobody told me that 18 years into our marriage, we would finally experience “for worse.” I didn’t know that we’d be tested in ways I never dreamed possible, that I’d cry more in the span of one year than I had in the previous 17.
Nobody told me what a year of unspeakable health care woes would do to our meager savings, that “for poorer” meant our already tight budget could get even more precarious.
Nobody told me that “in sickness” could mean more than 90 visits to doctors’ offices and clinics in a year’s time, or that I’d find myself sitting by my husband’s hospital bed for 24 days doing my best to be strong for him all the while screaming inside. I didn’t know that I’d find myself feeling so incredibly helpless and unable to do anything but be there for him, wishing him well and making bargains in my head with God all the while.
This past year, and the past month in particular, have really put those earlier squabbles and hard times into perspective for me. We weathered those challenges, and I imagine we’ll weather this too. He’s been home from the hospital for a week, so I’m trying hard to focus on the positives again.
And before this is interpreted as a statement against marriage, know that it’s not. If I had the chance to go back to August 1998, I’d do it all again, repeating the vows with my love. This time, I’d have my eyes wide open knowing what those vows could really mean, fully understanding and accepting the weight masked by the simplicity of those words.
Are we out of the woods yet? Can we get back to “for better”, “for richer” and “in health”?
Nobody knows. Or maybe they’re just not telling me.