A few years ago I was sitting at home suffering for a nasty stomach bug that seemed to be sweeping across the country, leaving millions of people gripping their stomachs and running for the bathroom. I lost three days of my life to that thing, and at the risk of giving you way too much information, not only was it the first time I’d thrown up in over 35 years, but Cheryl also said that when I did, I exploded.
And as Cheryl did yeoman’s work taking care of me and cleaning up after me, it solidified in my mind something that I had said many years earlier: When I become old, infirm, mentally incompetent, and leaking from all my orifices, she is most decidedly not to try to take care of me herself. She is to find a nice nursing home, put me there, and visit me every now and then…with her boyfriend. After all, the staff members there get time off. There’s absolutely no way I’d want her having to do this for me 24/7. I love her too much to want her to feel that she had to do that.
Yes…you really just read that. I said with her boyfriend. It may scandalize some of you more traditional people, but frankly, my dear...
Ah…but some of you are complaining that our wedding vows said “for better or for worse.” Doesn’t that include dealing with me in just the shape I don’t want her to have to deal with me in? Well, actually, a quick check to the “Wedding Program Archive” in my closet shows that our vows said “in good times and in bad, and while some of you may say that that means the same thing, I’ll tell you what I don’t think it means. I don’t think it means for better or off the charts. There are just some things that no one could possibly realistically imagine happening, and you shouldn’t be held to an impossible ideal should you find yourself in one of those situations.
And if you know how much I value my mind (and hers too…as well as the package it comes in), then it should come as no surprise to you that I figure that when my mind’s gone, I’m gone. The body may still be functioning, but the person she made those vows to has long since checked out. And if you know how much I love Cheryl, then you know that I’d still want her to have companionship, no matter what anyone else thinks.
This brings to mind the sad story that I read in Redbook a while back. A 43-year-old woman wrote in about her husband of 22 years, who had suffered a severe head injury that left him with the mental capacity of a five-year-old. She said that at first she was immersed in how best to take care of him, but then she started to see her own future…and it looked pretty grim.
Yow! Talk about off the charts. With any “luck,” this woman has another 30 to 40 years ahead of her. There’s no way she could possibly have imagined that. There’s no way I could imagine her spending the next 30 or so years with no male companionship.
She went on to say that she had no intention of divorcing him or turning his care over to someone else, but it was scary and lonely thinking of what was in store for her.
Of course, after I read that, I immediately went to Cheryl and repeated what I had told her many times before. I told her that if “off the charts” ever happens, she is to make sure that I’m taken care of, but to also make sure that her needs are taken care of too.
I wish that the woman in Redbook had had that conversation with her husband before the accident, and hope that all of you take the time to have it now.
Because sometimes “for worse” is far worse than anyone could reasonably been expected to imagine…or hold to.