Worse, Poorer, and Sickness

By Tina Callison

I remember getting a case of cold feet about a month before my wedding. I was terrified, and for a time, seriously considered calling the whole thing off. Did I love him? Yes. Did he love me? Yes. Was there anything in particular about the idea of spending the rest of my life with him that I didn’t think I could handle? No. So…what was the problem?

The problem was the wedding vows. We were using traditional vows – something we were in complete agreement on – and it was the vows themselves that scared me. “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death parts us.” I had no issues with the thought of having him by my side for whatever life might throw at us; in fact, there was no one better that I could think of that I would want with me through everything. The thing that caused my complete paralyzing fear was the fact that by saying those vows, I was actively admitting that “worse, poorer and sickness” – in whatever forms they might take – were a very real possibility; that very bad things could happen. I have always had an active imagination, and the scenarios that I managed to conjure up were not things that I wanted to have to deal with, no matter who was at my side.

Eventually I rationalized that marriage isn’t the cause of “worse, poorer and sickness,” but rather, these things are part of life whether people are married or not, and really, if I had to face these things, I would rather do it with him by my side than face them alone. And, with that, I did my best to put my fears aside, and the wedding went on as planned with all other issues being limited to footwear and nail polish.

I spent our fifth wedding anniversary sitting on a cot in a hospital room where our nearly 19-month-old second child had spent most of her life battling a congenital heart defect labeled as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. She was a few days away from discharge after a 98-day stay in the pediatric ICU; we were being sent home so that we could “have some time together at home as a family.” We were being sent home after heart surgeries number six and seven were unable to make any significant improvements; after heart catheterization number nine showed that there weren’t really any good options left; after being told that we should have a conversation about putting a DNR order in place.

After discharge, we had exactly one month together at home as a family before taking an ambulance ride back to the hospital; a ride that I knew would be a one-way trip. Within a few hours after arriving at the hospital, she went into cardiac arrest. Two and a half weeks later, we made the decision to take her off from life support. We were each able to hold her for an hour in the rocking chair before she passed away in my arms.

This was “worse, poorer and sickness.” This was what I had been so afraid of; well, no, technically this was actually worse than any of the scenarios that I had managed to conjure up – the death of a child had made my list, but not the death of a child after 20 months of hospital stays, impossible decisions, financial devastation and countless other nightmares that tested every aspect of our marriage all in one fell swoop. At one point, our daughter’s cardiologist looked at us during one of her clinic visits that again included more bad news and said, “You two look as though you’ve been beat over the head with a club. Repeatedly.” That was a pretty fair assessment of how it felt.

So, my fears about those wedding vows came true in some of the most painful ways possible. And, when they did, I began to truly understand them. I understand why they are so important. I understand that a bond between two people that can withstand “worse, poorer and sickness” in whatever forms they might come is one of the most amazing bonds imaginable. I understand that I could not have made it through any of that on my own, and that being able to share it with someone is a way to survive it. To have someone to go through life’s nightmares with you, and still be around to share in the joys as well, that is something special.

About this writer

  • Tina Callison Tina Callison is a wife, mother and freelance writer. Her current focus is on creating resources for families coping with medically complex children and child loss. Her first children’s book, But I Still Miss You, is scheduled for publication in this month.

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