I’ve written about this before. My penchant for tidy love stories. Hallmark endings – especially those Valentine’s ones all over the airwaves this week. Love without all the gritty reality like debates over money and schedules, tension, distance, silence. They are all cycles that pass, mixed with love and goodness and laughter and, sometimes, even romance. But the Instastory date nights give way to laundry and tired, rushed school mornings.
Bray and I will celebrate 15 years of marriage in May. We have spent every Valentine’s Day together since 2004. We do marriage utterly imperfectly but we do it together and we’ve stuck through some of the other’s highs and lows.
I will also admit that I’m not the easiest person to be married to. Shocking, I know. It’s no secret that I’m a control freak, struggling constantly to hand things over to God. That’s a messy and inconsistent battle. I’m also very opinionated. It’s a miracle I ever married. You may remember our first night meeting we debated over drilling in ANWR. (You can’t make this up!)
Luckily, he’s very opinionated too and isn’t scared of strong opinions.
We each have our really great points too. One of those is that we both love deeply, loyally, and empathetically. So when I’m suffering, boy oh boy do I know my husband is right there in the trenches with me.
Which is why these messy, true reality love story blog posts pop up when we’re in hard seasons. Usually when I’m facing some crazy medical challenge. He’s had his share of my medical stuff – weird brain cyst, knee surgery, infertility, gallbladder removal, C-section, etc., etc.
Cancer was one we didn’t predict.
My surgery last Thursday went well. Thank you all so much for praying. There are no words for the prayers, calls, texts, emails, messages, cards, etc. We felt completely covered.
The surgeon was able to cleanly remove the tumor from my right breast, as well as remove clean lymph nodes (thank you Jesus!). Then the plastic surgeon moved tissue from my left breast to my right one, and then pulled them both back up a notch so they will be a better version of their former selves. I have a drain tube in my right side, and between that tube and the lymphnode removal under my armpit, it’s the hardest hit area.
When I sleep, I have to lay on my back, not moving. My chest hurts and burns and itches and sears. My back aches from my immovability. But mainly this tube. It’s a pain and it causes pain.
My husband HATES blood. Really not a fan of needles, blood, medical goo. And yet. Every single morning and every single night, he clears my tube, empties my little fluid bag, and records it on a chart for the surgeon. I do not know how. Twice a day.
He brings me ice cold water with a straw. He juggles a really demanding job with school lunches and drop offs and groceries. It’s a lot on him right now, but he does it all without one word of complaint. All while taking care of me. And loaning me his big button up fishing shirts because they’re the most comfortable to wear.
I tried to shower this weekend, per the doctor’s orders, and remove my bandages, and I nearly passed out. I didn’t want him to see my scars but I could not dry off or get dressed. He’s outside the door asking to help and I’m juggling a towel trying to figure out if I manage without him (I can’t).
As I talked to two recent double mastectomy friends, a surgical process far more painful and invasive than mine, they shared their own reality love stories. These quiet husbands in the background we aren’t celebrating like we should.
One friend said she couldn’t take a shower for weeks. Her husband would help her into a shallow bath to wash. She was so worried about him seeing her scars and what it would mean for their future intimacy but he never stopped.
My other friend had FOUR drain lines. For weeks. She barely remembers that season because of her pain. Her husband cleaned and tended to all her lines every single day. When I called with a question about my line, she had to ask him because he had been the one taking care of them.
These stories aren’t on the cover of magazines. They don’t make tidy Hallmark movies (woman struggles with cancer, loving husband cleans her drains…). But these are what those vows were about. In sickness and in health.
This is love.
There is no bouquet of roses or candlelit dinner this Valentine’s Day that will compare with this romantic saga.
I look at those two pictures. The pretty Insta-worthy one from our beautiful date night before surgery. It was a gift. We had a blast. It’s important to do the romance stuff too.
But the second one is love. It’s the one of me after my shower. Hair wet. Dressed by my husband and settled into a recliner to relieve some of the pain.
Anyone can do a fancy dinner out. Dress up. Play some music. Sip on a cocktail under patio twinkle lights. Oh, but the other stuff. That’s harder. That’s what gets you to 15 years.
I’m no sage. I have no idea what the next 15 years looks like. And I’m a child of divorce and I know how quickly and easily those attacks come. Today though, I’m smitten. Besotted. Still taken by this husband of 15 years.
Grateful most of all.