Back in the day, I was a budding writer. I was part of the inaugural group of the “Colorado Voices” in the Denver Post.
In August of 2001, on our anniversary as a matter of fact, my piece was published.
I’d meant it as a tribute to my husband, and it means even more to me today.
So, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share it with you now with an update.
All the Little Things That Define Marriage
A pat on the backside. A quick hug in the hallway.
The Morse codes of romance that you learn after you’ve survived the ritual mating dance.
Once you’ve spent the requisite time waiting for the other shoe to drop and then figuring out that it’s never going to, you settle into a comfort zone with your mate. Sure, the initial wild excitement and the giddy romance are nice, but they can’t hold a candle to the sweet assurance of love that has lasted for years.
Sly winks to each other. Turning up the radio for a special song. An arm slipped around your waist while you’re cooking spaghetti.
These little things are what define a marriage. They’re the merit badges earned after you’ve passed the “now-I-know-all-about-you-but-I-love-you anyway” test.
While my husband battled a neurological nightmare for 18 months, he was with me physically but not “with me” totally. His illness robbed me not only of the strong man I had leaned on for all of our married life, but also of the little things I had somehow taken for granted. I was never alone but, boy, was I lonely. I didn’t have him to chat with. I couldn’t share my fears with him, because he was at war with demons threatening to destroy his central nervous system. Compared to his struggles, my losses were insignificant.
Holding hands in the car at a red light. Curling up in each other’s warmth to go to sleep. Walking into a party hand in hand.
Little things. Until they’re gone. Then they become part of an intricate fabric that you watch unraveling and dissolving at your feet. You can’t even remember what they felt like, because you never paid attention to them when they were there. My heart goes out to every lover who no longer has those little things.
When we were first married, we’d snuggle together in bed at night, talking about our dreams for the future. When his symptoms were at their worst, nights were spent helping him to breathe without choking, waiting for his medicine to get him to sleep and then allowing myself to toss fitfully for a few hours before the sun rose. It was too much of a struggle for him to talk, so our conversations were limited to my posing simple questions that he could nod or shake his head to. I’d stroke his brow and kiss his face, but he had lost the muscle coordination necessary to return the gesture.
A squeeze of your arm. Ear nuzzles and a mumbled “I love you.” Telling really bad jokes. The unique signature denoting two lives that have been forged into one.
While he was confined to bed, the toothpaste tube didn’t get squeezed in the middle, glasses weren’t left on the counter and I had complete and total control of the television remote. I hated every second of it. Trips to the drugstore became 15-minute races before he woke up. The pharmacist and I were on a first-name basis.
Tickle fights. A hand resting on your thigh.
He fought with the heart of a champion for more than a year to get well. Success was measured in little things. Walking unaided down the hall. Sitting up in his chair for an hour. Driving around the block. Three hours without any seizures becoming three good days without symptoms.
Coffee in bed. A foot massage.
We’re just now getting back to the little things. I treasure each kiss and luxuriate in every caress. I’m memorizing each snuggle. We hug longer than we used to. Today is our wedding anniversary. My husband is home and getting stronger every day. I’ve even given him back the remote. Please help us celebrate all of the little things that mean so much more now than before.
Right now, grab your significant other and give him or her a hug. Just because.
And for the update that I’d hoped I would not have to write for many more decades:
My husband has managed to cheat death for 15 years.
Since going into remission from tardive dyskinesia, he’s had shoulder reconstruction surgery from the near fatal accident we somehow miraculously managed to survive five years later; a five-way bypass; a pacemaker.
I suppose the hardest thing for me is that he’s always been the “Energizer Bunny” of husbands. He’s consistently lived through things that other mere mortals shouldn’t live through. I keep praying for a miracle, but everyone (even he) says there are no more to be had.
So, we wait.
This time, there will be no more “Walking unaided down the hall. Sitting up in his chair for an hour. Driving around the block.”
The tickle fights and hand resting on my thigh are memories.
Hell, I can’t even make him spaghetti anymore because of his dietary restrictions.
We’re slipping back into the nightmare of nights spent helping him to breathe without coughing, but there is no medicine to get him to sleep. Allowing myself to toss fitfully for a few hours before the sun rose would be a luxury that I’m afraid to take right now.
He can still talk, but our conversations are now “are you going to miss me when I’m gone?” and “I want you to get on with your life” – although he is my life, and has been for so very long that I’m probably going to wander aimlessly for a bit.
He’s still fighting like a champion – only his goal is to make it to one more anniversary on August 26th. I’ve watched that drive and determination before. I’d almost bet he’ll make it.
I know that all too soon, the toothpaste tube will no longer be squeezed in the middle, there will be no more glasses left on the counter and I will once again have complete and total control of the television remote. And I will hate every second of it.
But now, just as in 2001, and I do mean right now, grab your significant other and give him or her a hug. Just because.
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Jon Gabriel posted this to Twitter. And I cried right through it. My husband’s colon cancer is now in his brain. I can relate to so much of this. I found incredible strength in this, as well. God bless you.
I’m not married anymore, and my ex-wife and I didn’t go through anything like you have articulated here (we’re not enemies BTW, just not married anymore). But we were married, and when times were good, I remember these little things. I did them, and she also.
We’re individual human beings, without telepathic connections and thus, exist as bubbles. When married, those bubbles exist together as individuals, but these ‘little things’ are our connections we have to each other. It’s how we cross the boundary of our bubbles to connect to our partners. My wife didn’t know when I was having a bad time, but her touch would diffuse it. Similarly with her, my touch or a note left or a joke would penetrate her bubble and impact her.
This was wonderfully written and while succinct, communicates a lot and it got to me. I wish so many others distracted with daily life, TV, phones, social networks, work, etc. will take this to heart and allow it to affect them and realize exactly who they have chosen to have in their lives and appreciate them as they deserve.
I wish you and your spouse the best from my heart.
I am going through similar with my husband of 38 years. He is on his last kidney and no bladder due to cancer and is presently in the hospital with 2 separate urinary track infections and a blood infection. He is getting better but i know the end is in sight sooner rather than later. I cried when i read about your situation. Best of luck to you.
An absolutely awesome column/post. Thought I had this type of connection with my soul mate/wife of 30+ years. She cheated because she could, it blew up what I had thought was an awesome marriage and family.
I’ve moved on and had pretty much forgotten all those little things you mention that are no longer there. I feel so badly for you and your husband, but at the same time, you have those positive memories of what is really important.
All the best wishes for you and your husband. Your perspective is very humbling. Not many people truly “get it” the way you do.
Thank you for this – my husband and I have been lucky so far, but we both know that nothing is ever guaranteed. I hope that you are able to celebrate your anniversary this year.
Bless you both.
I loved reading what you’ve written here, although with mixed emotions. Part of me is envious because you’ve had so many more years than I had with my husband, and the other part is grateful that his heart attack took him down without any suffering. Love like the two of you share, like the two of us shared, is a gift. It can never be earned. Being loved completely, as though you have no flaws, is the most wonderful experience imaginable,