The danger of losing a partner or spouse always looms in the background of every committed relationship. For better or worse, sometimes means worse. This week I read a blog expressing the fear and worry of losing their mate. So I thought I would share my story.
At age 22 I married my first husband, Mark, who was 27. He was my mother’s boss, and my grandfather’s choice of a partner for me. In about the sixth month of our dating, he told me he had been to the doctor because he had the flu. He asked me to go to the drugstore and pick up his medicine. When I delivered it, I saw that he was much too sick to be left alone, but I was NO nurse. I took off two days of work to stay with him. When he kept getting worse instead of better, I called a friend of mine who WAS a nurse to take over. She wisely told me to get him to the hospital. That saved his life. After a week or so in the hospital the doctor released him to continue his recuperation from mono at home. He spent the next few months living at our house so that Mom and I could nurse him back to health. During that time he asked me to marry him, and I said yes. I had an inkling I would be in for a bumpy ride, but at 22 you think you can handle anything, and Mark was a very nice person, and my whole family loved him. Mark had a recessive genetic disorder called gaucher’s disease, as did his sister.
Within a few days of returning to work, Mark was fired from his good paying job as the manager of the largest JoAnn’s Fabric store in the country. They did not want to take a chance of having someone who had been that sick as their manager. It was hard for him to get another job. He was small, and didn’t look very healthy, but he did find one. Five months after we married, he stepped back off a step at work and broke his hip. His genetic disorder caused very fragile bones. His sister had broken hers, and it had disintegrated when she was 24 stepping off of a bus. Mark was barely 28 when his broke. Within a few weeks, he couldn’t walk without extreme pain. He couldn’t sit. He could only recline, and he wouldn’t see a doctor. By this time his back had collapsed. He had been 5’7” when we married, and five months after his accident he was 5’2”. I was frightened, and felt helpless. This was out of my league. His aunt and a pastor intervened to help convince him to see a bone doctor. He had a hip replacement within a month, and we went to his mother’s after the surgery to spend a couple of weeks. By this time I had also lost my job, and was selling Parent’s magazine door to door, so I could do that anywhere.
While we were at his mom’s the surgeon called and wanted to bring Mark back to Portland to go back into the hospital. Tests showed that there was something wrong with his liver. He wouldn’t go back, but it turned out that his disease caused deterioration to all his internal organs as well. Both he and his sister had cirrhosis of the liver. His doctor told him never to drink again because it would kill him. Mark lost his second job, and got another job selling fabric to stores all over southern Oregon. We moved from Portland and my family to Cottage Grove, and traveled the breadth of Oregon, but we both depended on sales for an income, and soon he needed a second hip replacement. We didn’t have insurance. The doctor managed to get everything done at no cost to us. I don’t remember how it worked.
When Mark was 30 his 35-year-old sister died of a brain hemorrhage. He took the news calmly because Mark was ALWAYS calm. I was frantic. I kept expecting him to die any day every day. It is not easy to sell magazines door to door. With these kinds of stresses, I could barely function. Our pastor counseled us. He told us that the man is the provider of the family, and that I should quit, and trust in God to provide for us. We had almost no income anyway. Mark was furious, but he agreed, and I quit Parent’s Magazine. Within a very short time he started receiving disability checks from Social Security, and got a large back check of about $5,700. Shortly after that his grandmother died and left him $1,000. Then a great-aunt who we visited on our honeymoon died and left him $2,500. We had our miracle. Without the stress of working regularly, Mark enjoyed a period or relatively good health.
During that time he felt called into the ministry. We applied and were accepted to go on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ, but didn’t receive our letter of acceptance in time to raise any funds. Again our pastor intervened, and asked if Mark wanted to work at our church since they would be the ones providing the funds for him to go to Campus Crusade anyway. We never moved to San Bernardino, and Mark worked for the church for the next four years, assisting our pastor to grow it to its highest attendance in the church’s history. Meanwhile the pastor gave me permission to work as a partner with his wife in a dental office. Mark quit collecting Social Security.
I hated dental assisting. I fainted at the sight of blood. I couldn’t sit still on the chair. I was clumsy with my fingers. During my short respite from working I had better employment offers in other dental offices. In that small town trained dental assistants were rare, and I had calls to come to work that I turned down because we were busy relying on God. It was amazing to me how the pastor could change his mind about me working when it benefitted his family, but I was an obedient parishioner, and I started working again – in her dental office.
Life was not easy, but the imminent threats of death and starvation were behind us. I wanted to go to school. My friend Jan invited me to take a college course with her. She was a teacher and needed continuing education to keep her license. Mark didn’t want me to go to college to become a teacher unless I had a job teaching. Teachers need licenses, which require a college degree in any state, so my chances of getting a job with no degree and no license were nil, but I was an obedient wife. Jan and her husband Bill decided to start a kindergarten in our church. They invested $500, and we invested $500 (since we now had money) to start the kindergarten. She asked me to help her. Now I had a job teaching even though it didn’t pay anything. I pushed the issue and started back to school. Without an education women had very little chance to make a supporting wage in those days. I felt quite a bit of internal pressure to find a way to be able to support myself in case of an EMERGENCY!
This story goes on for a long while, but the original point I wanted to make was that I lived with the fear of losing my husband from the time he was 30 until he actually died at nearly age 47. Emergencies were regular as his bodily organs, bones, joints and skin quit working well, but he never spent another minute in a hospital after his second hip replacement. We eventually went to Colorado where he graduated from Bible College. He pastored until about a year before he passed away.
Even though I worried about everything, I was not prepared for his eventual death. We didn’t want to talk about it. About a year before his death I did go for counseling. It was somewhat helpful, but Mark did not want to go. We just pretended on the outside that things were fine. They weren’t.
Mark called me at work one day to tell me that his legs were leaking, Mark NEVER called me at work. I broke down. Legs don’t leak. His heart could no longer pump the fluid out of his system, and his kidneys were shutting down as well, but I didn’t know that then. My other teachers told me to go home. They would take my class. I did. Within a week Mark died. My best friends Jean and Darlene were with me. Jean and I stayed in the hospital room until he died. I hate to say it, but by the time he passed away I was relieved. My 43rd birthday was the next day. Darlene and her husband took me out to eat.
So back to the point of writing all this. I worried CONSTANTLY about Mark dying and leaving me alone all through our 20 year marriage. It happened anyway. To prepare this is what WE did. I can’t say that all of it was effective, but not one wrote a blog about husbands getting ill when they were 27. Oh right, there were no computers for the masses, no internet!
- We took as good care of Mark as we could, but he was on a do not resuscitate notice at the hospital, and he didn’t want to do anything special to prolong his life.
- I made sure I was able to provide for myself – against everyone’s better judgement. I finished my bachelor’s degree and got a teaching credential.
- I got a job teaching, and so we had health insurance.
- We got life insurance that didn’t rely on his health by buying a house and insuring the mortgage.
- We made friends, played cards, and traveled when we could.
- We both enjoyed going to the coast, so we bought a used motor home and traveled in a way Mark could rest and have his oxygen when he needed it.
- We took our dog, Bud with us everywhere.
- We visited family, and made arrangements for his mother who had Alzheimer’s
- Mark prayed for me not to be grumpy.
- I exercised by walking or rollerblading nearly every day.
- We read the same books and talked about what we read.
- I learned a lot about football and especially the Seahawks.
- I learned how to knit, do needlepoint – anything where I could sit and do SOMETHING to keep somewhat occupied.
- I cried a lot – mostly in the bathroom.
- I slept in a separate bedroom so he wouldn’t get sick from anything I might have brought home from school.
- We didn’t adopt children.
- I talked to my girlfriends about all my problems.
- We ate out often.
- We did what we could to enjoy life for as long as it lasted.
People that didn’t know us very didn’t realize or even believe Mark was as sick as he was. He NEVER complained even though his average temperature was 102, and there was never a day he didn’t have a headache. I did his complaining for him as I made excuses for why we couldn’t do one thing or another. Our neighbors were SHOCKED when Mark died. One woman told me , “I thought you were exaggerating when you said Mark was really sick. I saw Mark out painting the fence two weeks ago.” And he was. A week later he was gone.
After the funeral, Mom stayed with me for a few weeks then had to go back to Portland. I cried all the way home from the airport. I was truly alone in the world. I could hardly get up in the morning, but I went back to work after a month. I did cry at work. My kids had gotten used to it, I guess. I don’t really know. My life was sort of a blur. A month and a half after Mark died I took in an emancipated teen-aged girl who lived with me until I married V. V and I started dating about 3 months after Mark died. V and T didn’t get along too well. T wanted me to dump V – how could I trust a stranger? V wanted me to dump T – how could I trust a stranger? I just didn’t want to be alone, and those two strangers helped me get my life back in gear.
That is the short version of twenty years of my life. During that time I did laugh and have fun, but they were hard years. I hope that hearing my story somehow lessens the fear and worry you have about losing your special someone. Most people don’t know it will happen for 20 years. I think that is worse because you assume that life will be ok forever. I didn’t assume that.
The point is that bad things happen in life. “All things work together for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purposes. Romans 8:28” I believe that, no matter whether you believe in MY God, or not. Life never stays the same. Don’t kill yourself when things are bad because they don’t have to stay that way. Don’t be lazy and play games and think life is going to be a picnic forever either because it won’t. Don’t give in to drugs and alcohol to try to make life better. They don’t work. Be guided by inner strength, which hopefully contains God, and find love and joy wherever you can. There is a lot of both in this world – even in the midst of horrible things. Be at peace with everyone you can. You never know when you might need that person’s help.
God bless you all as you stumble through life together with the rest of us. Lots of love, Marsha Lee 🙂