Husband prevented from visiting nursing home due to threat of coronavirus. Photo copied from article in The Stream by Margaret Olohan 3/16/20

In Sickness & In Health

I married an older woman—she’s roughly one month older than me. I get a lot of mileage out of the month of October.

We were both 22 when we got married and the last thing on my mind was illness. I was a college athlete, my dear wife was (and is) a firecracker and neither one of us would ever get much older than 30. Uh…yeah.

50+ years later, I look at life differently. I still love being married to her. We enjoy pretty good health, but that never getting older than 30 thing didn’t really work out. The same is true of illness. I’ve had two knee replacements, minor back surgery and early stage Parkinson’s. My “older woman”, though as beautiful as the day we married (I mean it), has had heart valve surgery and treatment for breast cancer. Plus she’s lived with a pain in her neck for 50 years.

I’m glad that a promise to support each other in sickness and in health was a standard part of the wedding vows. Otherwise I would have been even more clueless about how you need to love your spouse in health, so you can better love her/him when age and illness come.

These thoughts come to mind as we deal with the reality of the coronavirus. The possibility of serious illness is always with us, but we are rarely faced with that “unexpected” reality. Getting old and death are things that we like to pretend will never happen.

It’s a bit ironic. Among the most enriching experiences of our long married life has been comforting each other during illness or loss. When I first got married, little did I dream that sharing these times of closeness would mean so much to me. We were together at my father’s funeral. We were both present when my father-in-law, passed away. When my mother died we both prayed at her bedside. We jointly visit my 97 year old mother-in-law. Those comforting experiences have been incredible, as we’ve helped each other in times of illness and death.

My point is this. Work to truly love each other today, so that you can fully be there tomorrow when it is sorely needed. Treat each other with love, respect and compassion today. Make it a habit. That doesn’t mean you won’t disagree or argue with your spouse. Sometimes that’s necessary. Your marriage won’t be perfect. But never demean, show contempt, hatred or humiliate your spouse. Scripture is very wise:

(Sirach 28:18)

Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but not as many as by the tongue.

We’ve been strengthened by each other in dealing with life’s challenges. Marriage can be incredibly comforting in the hardest of circumstances. If we are to have our spouse by our side when we most need them, we need to treat them with respect and compassion the rest of the time.

Illness does not only come to us physically. It can also come to us through selfishness, unbridled anger, addiction and other aspects of our fallen human nature. If we are to be present in sickness and in health, we must sometimes eliminate the “illness” in our own marriages.

…Should a man refuse mercy to his fellows, yet seek pardon for his own sins? (Sirach 28:4)

It’s not always easy. Over the course of a marriage, wounds and hurts accumulate. Forgiving and asking for forgiveness are a central part of a happy marriage. Even “77×7” doesn’t cover all of the times we may need to forgive. Pray for the courage and fortitude to forgive, and the strength to ask for forgiveness. Listening and treating each other with compassion/respect is a lifetime project.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Christian marriage is more than giggles and laughs, even though we’ve had plenty of both. There is also a deepness of understanding which is difficult to explain but very much worth working toward.

It brings a smile to my face.

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