To Have & To Hold
“…to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part…”
I said those vows at age 21, knowing what they meant, but not understanding their weight until later in marriage. My husband, Jace, and I considered ourselves to be an adventurous couple. We enjoyed traveling, hiking, biking, and running next to one another in our local gym. Two miscarriages at the end of 2014 activated an autoimmune disease in my body. I started losing physical functions, which quickly became crippling. Only a few months later I had lost significant abilities, causing me to struggle just to climb stairs or lift my arms above my belly button. I began falling with the inability to get myself off the ground as my muscles significantly atrophied. After a blood lab, a three-day hospitalization, and a muscle biopsy surgery, I was diagnosed with a rare muscle disease.
The vows Jace said to me on our wedding day came to light the moment I entered our apartment for the first time after leaving the hospital. I had become weaker since I checked myself in the ER just three days prior. We lived in an upper apartment, and because my legs buckled easily, our new normal involved my husband putting the gait belt around my waist to help me walk up our stairs. I think for both of us chronic illness became real at that very moment. Despite being prescribed a strong medication, my disease rapidly took over my body. My weakest point had hit.
I was reminded of our vows when I cried out in tears from the restroom for Jace to help me. To be fully transparent, I could no longer get myself off the toilet. No matter how hard I tried my body was too weak to go from the sit-to-stand position. As he helped me up, tears streamed down my face, recognizing this as a true representation of “in sickness and in health.”
I was reminded of our vows in the middle of the night when I would wake up from medication induced sweats and I was too weak to kick the covers off. In tears, I would wake up Jace, begging him to pull the covers off my body.
Our marriage had inevitably changed. Our workouts together turned into him manually lifting my legs and arms for physical therapy, and our outings became doctor and physical therapy visits. As with the trial of our miscarriages, our marriage had to grieve what was lost. Jace, a full-time, working college student, had to take on the additional role of a full-time caregiver for me when he wasn’t occupied elsewhere. But when it felt like our world was shattering, as it so often did, we made the decision to remain “unbreakable us.”
It’s been almost three years since my diagnosis, and so much life has happened since. My body has healed significantly, I’ve seen periods of relapse, learned to manage lingering weakness, and even given birth to our micro-preemie baby boy. My new normal has been filled with celebrating the grace and mercies the Lord has given Jace and I. On the other hand, at times this new normal has also left me feeling the pangs of grief over all I’ve lost to my disease. I’m learning that there’s a space and time for grieving my illness in my marriage. To be honest, sometimes Jace and I still grieve the season in our marriage when my body was healthy.
We also keep believing that one day I will wake up healed, and my physical health will be completely restored. But what if that day doesn’t happen for you or I on this side of heaven? Are our marriages considered less fortunate than those who have a clean bill of health? Can our marriages endure the hardship of a spouse being sick, and still ground ourselves as unbreakable? Dare I say that I believe a marriage can actually flourish despite the reality of chronic illness?
The cold, hard truth is that the list of things Jace and I both grieve and dislike about my disease far exceeds the benefits of having a chronic illness in our marriage. There’s money every year spent on medical bills rather than romantic trips together, constant bruises on my skin from infusion pokes or blood labs which couldn’t possibly make me feel sexy, vacation days used for doctor visits, and physical weakness and exhaustion that dictates how much time we spend together. The list goes on.
But, believe it or not, there is a list of benefits to having chronic illness in a marriage. So, while the list of “cons” could far exceed the “pros,” what I’ve come to understand is the life lessons from the “pros” far outweigh the “cons.” Chronic illness has given Jace and I a healthy challenge to change our perspective about the circumstances we face. It’s tested and grown our perseverance, humbled us to become more patient, and reminded us of the extraordinary gift of the present.
Jace and I have had to learn to change our perspective about our challenges to be able to remain grounded in our marriage. This change certainly didn’t happen overnight. When I was so weak and the list of what I couldn’t do outweighed the list of what I could do, we had to learn to look at our situation with gratitude and focus on the positive. We may not have been able to be running buddies, but we sure could still compete and play a mean game of cribbage together. We may not have been able to have the time of our lives exploring, but we could most definitely have the time of our lives laughing over and over as we watched “Mrs. Doubtfire” or “Home Alone.” When we changed our perspective and found gratitude for what we could do rather than what we couldn’t, our hearts changed. We no longer took on the weight of the significant trial upon us, but rather took every day as it came, and trusted that we would be given the grace to tackle the next day if we were given.
During my weakest times, we kept holding onto hope that our sufferings wouldn’t be wasted. Romans 5:3-5 states, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” We held onto hope through these verses and kept persevering that one day we would see beauty from the ashes.
We learned quickly what it looks like to be patient and kind to one another, and what it looks like to humbly serve your spouse. We quickly recognized we are a team, and while we both experience different responsibilities and stresses that come along with my muscle disease, we must work as a team. There have been seasons in our marriage over the last three years when we haven’t agreed upon things. We could be disagreeing with one another about a minor issue or battling an ongoing issue, but at the end of the day, no matter what we are disagreeing on, chronic illness has taught us that we have to drop our pride and stubbornness and represent love to one another. At night when my legs feel numb and tingly and I no longer have any energy to crawl out of bed to grab myself a glass of water, Jace still shows me unconditional love by grabbing a glass of water for me. He also serves me by taking on most of the nightly duties of having a medically fragile child in our home. On days when I have extra energy and my disease doesn’t feel completely present, I love to serve him by doing extra household chores. While there are extra stresses and lifestyle changes that have had to be made, my diagnosis has softened our hearts and encouraged us both to find ways to lovingly serve one another.
Lastly, we’ve been reminded by my disease and the many trials in our lives that have come from it, how important it is to be present with your loved ones. Our marriage has grown from a deeper understanding of how fragile life can be. If it weren’t for my diagnosis, we wouldn’t have come to understand how important it is to take the time to be present with your spouse and loved ones. We both have been taught that tomorrow, if we are even blessed with that gift, is worth celebrating! We have come to know that we may not be given tomorrow. Yet, if we are, and my health isn’t in the best shape, we will tackle that challenge tomorrow. Until then, we’re given today.
Jace and I have come to fully understand the weight of the blessing of today. Our hearts continue to beat and our lungs continue to inhale and exhale. Oftentimes these two intricate functions get overlooked and we believe these need to be a profound life-altering heart change for those of us with chronic illness. The many negative aspects that can accompany chronic illness in marriage could cause us to become bitter, angry, and sad. Yet how can we focus on the negative aspects when we have the gift of life? We’ve been blessed with the present; therefore, no matter in sickness or health, for better or worse, we will choose to find joy in today.
Written by: Lacey Klimeck
Lacey is one of our amazing People Hope Tribe members, representing all things hope in Wisconsin. As a wife and mama bear, she wears the title “superwoman” better than just about anybody we know. You can find her sipping French press coffee while she daily battles her own chronic illness and loves on her micro preemie son! Give her a journal, a Bible, and a good sunrise or sunset, and she’s a happy camper.
Photos of Lacey and her family are all courtesy of our friends at James Stokes Photography.
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