“Why is she marrying him if he is going to die?”
Those words were muttered on our wedding day. When I learned of that, I must be honest, I was thoroughly offended. How could someone be so superficial and cold? I was upset that was something people were actually thinking about on a day that was supposed to be a celebration of our love and oneness. I let it get to me and began thinking I needed to validate our love to everyone. I felt I had to prove that what we had is real. It was real and has always been real. Chris and I never questioned it, so it surprised me that others did.
I have since had a change of heart regarding my upset over that comment. I realize now that maybe the individual had some insight to the pain I would inevitably feel and the stigma I would have as a young widow. Maybe they knew how difficult our road would be and how heartbreaking it is to watch one’s spouse suffer with such a terrible disease.
What this person may not have considered, however, is that Chris and I were not simply making a choice to love each other wholly, we were fulfilling what God had intended, what we were being called to do.
Love isn’t always the same story. We can hope we live out our days together, have children, grandchildren, and then die in each other’s arms Notebook style, but unfortunately, that doesn’t happen very often. I dreamed of that with Chris. I naively hoped he would survive many years and we could live a full life together. I begged God all the time for that outcome. What I didn’t realize, though, was that I was just falling into the ideal we have created for love. I had the idea of love just sitting pretty on a pedestal in my brain surrounded by a white picket fence.
Through Chris, God taught me how to truly love and that experiencing the fullness of love doesn’t have to be over the course of 30 or more years.
It was a quiet night and I was finishing some laundry at the laundromat. I went home and began folding my clothes. It wasn’t long before I heard Chris coming through the back door. He was out of town for a little while and I wasn’t expecting him back so soon. I immediately ran to him and nestled myself in his chest. He hugged me differently that time. He held me a little tighter and longer. He stood up straighter, almost to make himself bigger so he could completely cover me with his hug, protect me.
That night, he told me the doctors found cancer in his lung. We weren’t aware of more information than that, but I spent the night sobbing in his arms. At that point, we had been dating for about 4 months. And at that point, we were already completely in love.
Not long after that night, we sat in an exam room anxiously awaiting results regarding the extent of his cancer. The doctor entered the room and explained to us that Chris had lung cancer that had already metastasized to his bones. He also explained that his mutation was very rare and could not be cured. He was terminal.
My world came crashing down on me. Chris and I were already planning a life together and like the blink of an eye, it was shattered. My body felt like a bag of rocks, much like it does now. Shattered and lost… Chris was more accepting though. He trusted God’s will probably more than any other human being I know. He was accepting of whatever God laid before him. I, however, was a complete emotional mess and I suppose you can say I was a mess for the both of us. I had more difficulty accepting God’s will.
“It’s just not fair!”, I would often yell, and Chris would look at me and say, “there is no such thing as ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’. It just is.”
His faith taught me so much. He was a no nonsense guy and that’s what made him even more special to me. While he was sad to leave me, he knew it was for a greater purpose. One that we maybe don’t understand right now. He just trusted God. He “gave into the call” – Sia- My Love
We knew our life had changed that day upon his diagnosis of terminal cancer. What we didn’t know was that our love will change too, for the better.
“Maybe, I think, love is another dimension because it is reflective. Predicated on really seeing the other. The seeing externalizes the other’s inner self and makes it real. Love makes us more real.” – Rachel Jamison Webster – Widowed – TEDxMuskegon
Our love morphed into something that went much deeper than before his diagnosis. Perhaps we were forced to reach the point in our love that healthy couples eventually reach after 50 years. We took each other as is. We saw the inner light of our hearts rather than our hearts alone. It was complete selflessness and sacrifice that became the foundation of our relationship. We never stopped serving the other. Even on his deathbed, my husband wanted me to sleep in the hospital bed and he on the window bench I had been sleeping on because he wanted me to be more comfortable. The care and love that man showed for me has changed me forever. I thank God so much for our love. I learned what self-sacrifice really is too. I never wanted my husband to be uncomfortable either. I bathed him, wiped him when he went to the bathroom, brushed his teeth, trimmed his nails (which I would never do for any other human being), cleaned up his vomit, cleaned up his diarrhea, went to the store the minute he mentioned he had a craving for something specific, and labored in the kitchen until I made something he would want to eat. I kept our life moving as his body slowed down and he kept me humble and grounded as we faced the most difficult time of our existence. We pushed passed the superficial things quickly and truly saw the other. We saw each other fully and unconditionally, and we brought each other closer to God. We were blessed in a very devastating way, but it was still a blessing.
“Why is she marrying him if he is going to die?” In other words, why would I risk feeling the pain of loss knowing my love will leave me soon? Why would I commit to a dying man? Even Chris told me, a few months after his diagnosis, that he didn’t want me to feel the pain when he left me and I should leave him while I could. He didn’t want me to feel the pain, so he preferred to sacrifice himself, to endure the pain he would feel alone. I responded, maybe a little offended, but I understand now, “I will never leave you. You are my love and I am yours and I will be with you until the very end.” He accepted my decision and later admitted that he never really wanted me to leave, but felt he had to say it at least once so I would know he didn’t want to leave me here alone.
We married because we loved. We loved because we were called to love. We were also called to learn, and we were called to teach.
“the highest does not stand without the lowest” – C.S. Lewis A friend of mine, who is also widowed, shared that quote with me. She explained, “[that quote] is one of the few things that keeps me from feeling too sorry for myself. Sickness stands in opposition to health. We know what beauty is when juxtaposed with ugliness. When I walk into a room and I hear people whisper, ‘that’s the lady who lost her husband’, I see couples stand a little bit closer together. Maybe I imagine it but I even think that my walking in the room has stopped quarrels in mid-sentence between spouses. The higher thing is two people living in love. But the higher does not stand without the lower. The pain of loss is the lower thing, but it supports the higher thing. Is this comforting- not really- not like a comfy blanket… it does help me feel less like it’s ‘not fair.’ There is no ‘fair’ and ‘not fair’. There is the ‘higher thing and the lower thing.'”
Again, like Chris would say, “there is no such thing as ‘fair’ and ‘unfair’. It just is.” I believe God gave him the insight he needed to teach me from spiraling down into a pit of self-pity. My friend solidified that too.
Chris and I made the ultimate sacrifice to serve as the lower in this case. By this, we loved wholly, learned humbly, and will teach with great humility. We were and remain blessed in many other ways though. We don’t carry the lower in every aspect of our life.
The mystery of God will continue to be unknown to us, but with faith, we can accept His will and follow the truth.
That, my friend, is why I married him.