Twelve years ago, Jeff and I got all dressed up, hopped on a yacht in Newport Harbor, and invited some family and friends to celebrate our commitment to one another.
I offer you my solemn vow to be your faithful partner in sickness and in health, in good times, and in bad, in joy as well as in sorrow. ... I promise to cherish you, honor you, and to respect you for as long as we both shall live.
Eight years after we said these vows, my husband was paralyzed from the neck down while diving into the ocean.
And now four years later, we are still rebuilding our lives.
When I think about the phrase 'faithful partner in sickness and in health,' I think about what that meant to me 12 years ago. I am embarrassed to say that back then, I thought it meant something like nursing my partner through the flu. It definitely didn't mean anything close to what it means to me today.
I am my husband's caregiver. As a high level quadriplegic on a ventilator, he requires 24-hour care and assistance. While technology has been instrumental in allowing him independence in some capacity, the truth is that he still needs help with almost every single task throughout any given day. And it's my job to provide that assistance.
As a spousal caregiver I often come across the question of "How do you separate being a spouse and being a caregiver?" This is a big topic in the spousal support groups I belong to. One thing I've learned in being a part of these groups is that no one's situation is exactly the same. And everyone has to find what works for them and their partner. I learn from and respect each and every approach. Because figuring out what works and implementing a caregiving plan is a difficult and complex task.
But for me, when asked how I separate being a spouse and being a caregiver to my husband, my answer is simple:
Because I'm not either a wife or a caregiver.
I am a wife and a caregiver.
I'm not one or the other.
I am both at the same time. Always.
Because when I'm cleaning Jeff's trach, we're talking about our daughter's school. I have my headlamp on and I'm gloved up, and the rolling table set up next to his bed is stacked with gauze, saline, Q tips, and ointment. And my husband and I are talking about setting up a weekly homework schedule for our third grader.
Because when I start his breathing treatments in the morning, we're already talking about what we'll do for dinner that evening.
Because when I'm transferring him from his wheelchair back into bed and trying to get the sling out from under his body, he is being silly and making me laugh so hard that it takes me three tries to successfully get the sling out.
Simply put, me being my husband's caregiver works for us.
"I truly don't think I could get through this with anyone but you."
My husband recently said these words to me after we'd been through some difficult days together. And it's one of the best compliments I've ever received.
Jeff and I have developed a bond over the last four years that is hard for me to accurately put into words. It is built on deep trust and respect for one another that developed as a direct result of the trauma we went through as a couple when he was injured.
His injury caused a tsunami that forever changed the landscape of our life. And we are fortunate that we've been able to hang on to one another as the waters receded. We've worked together to make sense of the leftover chaos and have begun to build our life on top of the wreckage.
But it hasn't been all fortune and luck that have gotten us to where we are.
It's been a lot of hard work and sleepless nights. And an endless amount of grace. We've had to learn to allow one another space to be angry with the turn our life has taken without taking it personally. We've had to accept that each one of us copes in our own way and we've learned to support one another within those parameters. We've consoled one another, we've delivered more pep talks that I can count, and we've both taken turns being the bad cop when it was time for the pity party to end.
Our life hasn't turned out the way I imagined it would on this day twelve years ago when we said our "I dos." Back then, my idea for our future was so simple and idyllic. It involved working, raising our daughter, retiring, then traveling. Instead, I feel like we boarded a rocket, were launched into space, and crash-landed on a distant planet.
But it turns out this planet is liveable. Yes, there's some harsh terrain and surprises waiting to challenge us, but there's also rich soil where we can plant some new dreams and watch them grow.
I wouldn't want to navigate this new world with anyone but this guy.