When we were in pre-marital counseling (with our dear ones at betweentwotrees.org) it surfaced that I was not very sweet to Brian when he was sick. Apparently I acted sort of annoyed and put out rather than kind and concerned. So lovely of me.
We were working through an exercise about “unwritten rules” in your home growing up. Things that no one ever really decided or said out loud, but things that just were. My mom was an ER nurse and a 12-year cancer patient and I think one of those things for us was, “If you’re not dying of cancer, you’re probably fine.” My mom or dad never said anything of the sort but we all learned to downplay regular old sick days. Considering that mom would get a round of chemo on a Friday, throw up all weekend and then return to her full-time job on Monday.
We did eventually realize the insanity of that and mom started working less and resting more, but probably not until 10 years in. I still struggle with choosing rest instead of “being tough enough to push through it”- which incidentally always doubles the length of time I feel like crap. And I guess it also made me not so sympathetic.
As a mom, it seems pretty easy to be tender with my kids when they’re sick (or in a terrible baby spica cast.) But with Brian, I have had to work on it. He and I are a really good team, we trust each other and we are both capable and confident- but that’s the problem. Those are good qualities until they lead to over-independence and we forget to take care of each other. There are lots of small people and things that need me so when Brian is sick it can feel inconvenient- like just more responsibility rather than a chance to show him tenderness and love.
I had a roommate for years who was so genuine and caring when I was sick- “Steph, can I make you soup and draw you a hot bath?” Seriously, she would say that. I have thought back to those moments when Brian is sick and have tried to be more like my friend Sara. I am getting better, sweeter than I used to be. And look at me lying in bed sick last week… I am so mature these days.
9 weeks ago when Brian had a stroke, our whole lives became about taking care of him (and don’t worry, a million people are taking care of me too.) Although stressful, it has not felt like a burden. It has felt right and natural and sweet even. I spent the first 7 nights on a terrible chair-bed next to him in the hospital so that he wouldn’t feel alone or afraid. So that when he rolled over 20 times an hour, I could rescue his right arm (that he barely knew existed) from being pinned under his body. So that if the nurse’s button fell, he had help since he couldn’t get up or yell. When I would leave to be with the kids, I asked someone he trusted and knew well to stay with him in case he needed something he couldn’t say. Or in case they tried to take him to the group room to eat his meals (which happened one morning before I came and he was not happy about it.)
His mom and dad took turns staying overnight the following week and then he progressed enough that he told us we could sleep at home. But we continued to look for little ways to make this whole thing less terrible for him. Each night after I did dinner and bedtime with the kids I would come back to the hospital for just a while. I would put his coffee pod and mug next to the Keurig in reach in case I didn’t get to the hospital early enough. I would get his clothes changed, his phone charging, the lights right, some good oil in the diffuser, a full water cup, the things he needed lined up on his tray table and a kiss goodnight. It is a privilege to be the one who knows him best and can care for him in the ways most comfortable to him. I know his preferences, his emotional needs and the way he likes to watch The Office and eat cereal every night at 10pm.
I always say that there are golden threads to be found in every season, no matter how dark. And even though I can’t imagine finding them if this scenario had been worst case, I have to believe that I eventually would. God doesn’t waste our pain. There will be something golden, even if just thin strands.
I am seeing more and more of those strands in this story and one of those is this: tenderness is flooding our lives.
Being so attentive to how Brian feels and what he needs has been something I hope will change me and my marriage forever. It’s certainly hard to be the caregiver and the only parent that can do most things right now (you long-term caregivers are in a league of your own) and there are days I am grouchy and angry about it. But it’s giving me a chance to love Brian in a way that is deeply beautiful. And in a way I needed to grow. Even if I am just putting on his shoes or patiently letting him fight to find the words he needs to express his thoughts, it’s an opportunity to be tender.
Crisis often gives us that chance. A chance to set aside all the things that don’t really matter. A chance to say the things in our hearts that might have before felt awkward or too hard to say. To be stripped of our put-togetherness and be true with each other.
Among the frustrating and painful moments we’ve had these past 9 weeks, there have been some of the most tender moments of our lives. Vulnerable and genuine and so gut-wrenchingly beautiful. I am thankful for the tenderness of God, of our people and of our ever-crazy life together.