In Sickness and in Health

Dig, if you will, the picture: everyone in the family just feeling run­down and mildly miserable, nobody in real pain or even discomfort, just sniffling and coughing and funky. We’ve been sick these past two weeks. My wife held out the longest, but she finally succumbed as well. We’re actually still not fully recovered, which is why this post is a day later than advertised in the last one (sorry about that). Fortunately, this illness hit just in time for the discussion of the next vow in the standard list: “in sickness and in health!” Oh goody!


Taking Care of Each Other

We all get sick at times. I’ve actually always enjoyed this perk of being married. When I’m feeling lousy, the distribution of chores gets shifted, and my wife takes on aspects of daily life that I normally handle. She also looks after me, encouraging me to rest and take medicine. And when she’s been under the weather, I try to step up my efforts to get her to rest, take medicine, and let me handle at least some of her normal daily duties. We’re a team, after all, and if we don’t keep up with these things, the kids’ team will win, as they sometimes have when we’ve both been ill at once. But, hey, who’s to say if 11PM is actually all that late for a 3­-year-­old to be getting to bed? Maybe she’s just a night owl. And why shouldn’t kids have pizza for every meal once in a while, really?

Anyway, my point, if I remember correctly, was that we look after each other when illness befalls us. That’s why I was particularly shocked to read in Gary Thomas’s book, A Lifelong Love, that many men abandon their wives when they get seriously ill. According to chapter 11, “one medical doctor said that the number is actually around 70 percent – that seven out of ten men, upon hearing of a wife’s cataclysmic medical diagnosis, leave the marriage.” That can’t be right. I really hope that’s not right. I cannot imagine being able to live with myself if I chose to abandon my wife when she needed me the most. Surely I’m not in a 30 percent minority in that feeling.

But whatever the actual statistics may be, they are far too high. Men, we are men, right? Are we men of our word? When we vowed to stay together in sickness and in health, what else could we have meant? I hope and pray that none of us will ever have to choose between abandoning a terminally ill wife or staying and taking care of her as she slowly deteriorates. Really, though, we already face that choice, and we always have. We don’t notice it most of the time, but every day we’re alive our time on earth gets shorter. Life is terminal. Only the pace changes when illness strikes.

A Delightful Liberation

Just after the aforementioned section of A Lifelong Love, the author quotes a lengthy passage from Robertson McQuilkin’s memoir, A Promise Kept. His wife contracted Alzheimer’s disease, and he left a prestigious career as a university president to take care of her. As time and her illness progressed, he says, “I made a wonderful discovery. As Muriel became ever more dependent on me, our love seeped to deeper, unknown crevices of the heart… My imprisonment turned out to be a delightful liberation to love more fully than I had ever known.” When you love someone, you want to provide them the best life you can. Sometimes that means sacrificing much in order to love well. May all of us choose to seek a deeper love in similar circumstances.


Think about how you and your wife react to illness in your marriage. Do you work together or do you get mad at each other (or both)? Do you still like Chicken Noodle Soup, or after a few days do you never want to even smell it again? Let me know in the comments.

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