I’m sitting in a recliner at Porter Hospice in Denver. I have sat here many times over the past four months. In a few days, Carole Mitchell, my mother-in-law will pass from this world into heaven and eternity. She will fall into the arms of her Savior and have no more tears, sickness or sorrow. I have known Carole for over half of my life. I will be truly sad and sorrowful. Her journey of illness, pain and ultimately cancer have taken place over the last 20 plus years. (Update: Carole passed away on 09/09/19. Sherri’s step mom, Nancy Jo passed away from Covid on 07/19/20)
Carole came into my life through my marriage with her daughter Sherri. This week is very bitter sweet as I celebrated 25 amazing years last Wednesday with the love of my life and prepared for the imminent death of her mother.
It has been 25 years since my wedding which I believe has given me a good bit of insight regarding marriage and especially the trials and triumphs of relationships that last. Of course, one of the foundations of my marriage is the vows I made to my bride that Labor Day weekend two and a half decades ago. “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” These were words that I hold in my heart today. I made a vow, a promise before my bride, my family, my friends and my God. I intend to keep that vow until death do us part”
I have always been intrigued by the order of the couplets of this vow. “For Better, For Worse” – “For Richer, For Poorer” – “In Sickness, In Health” It seemed to me that the order was “Positive, Negative” – “Positive, Negative” – “Negative, Positive” Why wouldn’t be all positives and then negatives? Or maybe we have been looking at it all wrong. Maybe the vows are not made up of positives and negatives, but realities. Maybe In Sickness is not a “negative” after all.
In 1992, I met the most amazing, funny, intelligent, creative, beautiful woman, Sherri. OK, I was definitely smitten when she walked into the RadioShack I was managing. Sherri agreed to date me. Although, she did have one requirement. I needed to listen to her story first and then decide to pursue a relationship. Sherri shared how in 1991, at the age of 27, she had been diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis and was no longer able to work. Did I mention she was gorgeous, and funny and incredibly smart? Of course, I wanted to date her, MS and all.
The same year we met, Sherri had a blood test that was positive for Lyme Disease. She believes she contracted Lyme Disease after a tick bite when she was fourteen. From the time she was bitten until she was diagnosed with MS and Lyme in 1991 and 1992, Sherri was full of energy, staring in musicals, singing in show choirs and attaining multiple college degrees. Although, she was often in pain and sick with pneumonia and other illnesses.
On 9/4/94 we were married!! Wahoo! The date was planned to help me remember our anniversary, all twenty-five of them so far. We said our vows and then marched into For Better and For Worse, For Richer and For Poorer (illness has a way of draining your bank account pretty quickly). I also quit a well-paying job as a successful RadioShack manager to work as an new associate telecom engineer. I needed to be home more often. Retail management was 6 days a week, usually 9 to 12 hours a day and I did that for 7 years of our marriage. Working only 40 hours a week as an engineer did allow me to spend more time at home as well as give me time to spend running the Invisible Disabilities Association which we founded in 1996 and incorporated as a non-profit in 2004.
Back to the vows. How come the order is not In Health and In Sickness. Why does In Sickness come first? We are taught from a young age to Be Positive, not Negative. Is being sick, being negative? Sherri had no say in developing MS or Lyme Disease. She definitely didn’t ask for it. Who would? I see so many people especially women who are at the top of their game then illness and pain, knocks them off their feet. Sometimes they recover, often times it becomes a chronic lifelong battle. This has been Sherri’s journey. MS, Lyme Disease, Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD, TMJ and more.
Ok, it’s not just Sherri’s, but my journey as well. The vows we took together and were recited to each other with a LOT of witnesses. No getting out of them. Although, so many people do. I understand, I mean I UNDERSTAND how incredibly difficult life can be caring for a loved one, year after year and decade after decade. We have traveled the nation looking for answers to solve Sherri’s pain and sickness. We have spent a fortune, delayed, changed and canceled dreams. We have endured more “once in a lifetime” impacting moments in a month than most people experience in a lifetime. Yet we forge on.
Romans 5:3 – 4 states “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character…” We live in a microwave world today. Skipping the suffering and the endurance is the goal. Let’s get to the character right away with little effort. Yet, star athletes know, No Pain, No Gain. Life is a job, which takes a lot of work.
It has started to become clear to me that In Sickness is the norm and In Health is not. What’s abnormal: climbing Mt Everest, finishing an Iron Man event, sailing around the world in a dingy or walking on the moon. For the rest of us, living with the battle scars of living is normal. Diamonds are made under tremendous pressure and gold is refined by incredible heat. Has my marriage been difficult? Yes!! Yet, persevering has molded the two of us and giving us the ability to be empathetic and to find peace and strength to weather the storms. We get it! We have most likely been there ourselves.
Back to where I started sitting in the Porter Hospice recliner. My wife, Sherri is a woman of great strength. Her mom, Carole, modeled it as well. I am so honored to have spent the past twenty-five years in the presence of such great suffering, endurance and character. It has also been full of great joy, great strength and great peace. My life has been changed for the better. I wouldn’t change a thing. Even In Sickness.