An Anniversary

On Wednesday Chris and I would’ve been married for 15 years. I guess it would be our golden anniversary, but I don’t really care about that stuff. This is also the time of reliving and remembering: diagnosis, procedures, hospitalization, decisions, death. What a terrible whirlwind it was.

I’ve read back through this blog some, to remember. I’ve texted with one of our nurses; she checks on me periodically, and I love her for it. I emailed one of our doctors, and he emailed me back. He said: “I am having difficulty recalling an experience that has been more meaningful during my years of practice…. I still think about him…. I will never forget seeing you in the lobby that morning [of his death], it’s burned into my memory.” This was one of the residents who rounded so early, so many mornings, who would always crouch down by my cot in the bleary darkness and quietly ask what we needed, what questions we had. He’d pick up my guitar here and there for a second, but not in the obnoxious way people sometimes pick up other people’s guitars. One day, close to the end and with tears in his eyes, he told us how hard it was to come into our room everyday.

Chris and I lived out our vows in that hospital. I mean, we lived out our vows every day of our marriage, which is maybe more notable, but we lived out the sickness and health bit, til death parted us there. We didn’t have to do it for that long, really. But it was messy and smelled like a foreign country and would have been humiliating if the winnowing presence of death didn’t render all the gross things powerless to humiliate.

{Pinky saw me typing just now and asked what I was writing. When I told him I was writing about Daddy, he said he wanted to write about Daddy too, so:

he was very kind and i love him so so so so so so so much and he was so gentle and strong and so happy and so powerful and he was soooooo funny. love: pinky / pal / baby buddy / Andrew}

One day in the hospital, after a conversation with some dear friends about being free of encumbrances as Chris walked that very hard road, Chris looked at me and said: “I’ve been afraid of you our whole marriage.”

He went on to say that fear didn’t primarily characterize our relationship, but that fear had been there consistently enough, throughout. Fear of my disappointment and subsequent anger. Fear of my strong reactions to him. I looked him straight in the eye, from the foot of his hospital bed, and said, “The fact that you’re only bringing this up to me now Is. Not. Love.” “See?” he said, “that’s what I’m talking about.”

Chris’s announcement was a hard hit and for many reasons. From before we were married we’d been working on the dynamic of his quietness, his evenness, and my more impassioned way of communicating, which often, if left unaccounted for, tipped the scales in the direction of my wants and needs. This wasn’t news, and we’d come a long way from where we’d begun. Also, I’m not someone who gets really angry. The most beautiful thing about our marriage (other than our unwaning PDA) is that it was characterized by non-defensiveness. On both our parts. We might flare in a moment of defense in a conflict, but each of us quickly settled into a posture of hearing the other person, a posture of humility and reception. We worked so hard to create honest and vulnerable lines between us–real open space–and we really succeeded. I was so proud of what we had built.

And then this bomb dropped from the hand of my beloved while on his deathbed. I remember thinking in that moment: It’s OK. Don’t take this on right now. Let it go. You can deal with it later. I ultimately said something like, “It makes me sad that you have felt this way. I’m sorry you’ve been afraid. I’m glad to know it now. We’ll work on it.” I wasn’t dismissive. But I also had to compartmentalize to some extent, just to survive the day. He had done what he had had to do, and I did the same.

One friend, or maybe it was Al, said: “In any other context, this would’ve merely been the beginning of another conversation between you. It would’ve been building blocks. It would’ve born better and better fruit in your marriage.” She was right. On a normal day in our normal life, it wouldn’t have been such a devastating blow. We would have built something of it. I know we would have.

Not many days later was our 12th anniversary. He gave me a card, written in his shaky hand. It was full of real love, gratitude, hope. It’s a gift made all the more precious by the emotionally precarious days leading up to it. And I wrote him a love letter, with the knowledge that it may also couple as a eulogy, and it did. This is what I read to him in our room on the 9th floor that day, and what I read in front of any who stayed to listen after his funeral. He treasured the letter; he wanted to keep it on his table next to him, close.

My Love,

Twelve years it’s been together. I cry now, because it suddenly seems like a drop in the bucket of time. And I want so much more with you. It still feels like we’re only at the beginning. 

But let me reframe. I must, or my spirit will be crushed altogether.

I have known and always known that no one’s marriage is better than ours. We have much growing to do, and there are always new depths of repentance and forgiveness and grace needed between us. But our marriage is characterized by a companionship we have reveled in these years, by an unwaning affection, by intimate joy-bringing humor, by the balancing of our distinct strengths and weaknesses brought into play together, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who ministers to each of us in turn through the other. We love each other, and we are in love with each other. We have had 12 years, not merely of commitment to one another, but 12 years of being one

Chris, I did nothing to deserve the gift of our marriage—the gift of you as my husband. God’s kindness is no where more clear to me in my life than here with you. In you, he has given me sure footing, shelter, strengthening, shaping. At times my faith in God’s care, even in his very existence, has been restored because of your words, your prayers over me, God’s very spirit in you. Your faithfulness anchors me. 

Your faithfulness doesn’t waver. Your fear of the Lord is real, and your faith in the Lord’s healing is tried and true. The Lord healed us—is healing us—in our union. 

You are beautiful and kind, Chris. You pursue truth as the greatest treasure, while keeping a tender heart for the people around you. You aren’t defensive but want to see truth even at the expense of your pride. You are so gentle with me.

This year our marriage is deepening and widening for reasons I would never have chosen. But as this is our reality, I accept and count as good the different ways we are learning to relate to each other, the different types of love and service and endurance we are experiencing together. I want to show you how encompassing my love for you is; I pray you feel it. And you—I feel like you’re bearing a cross for both of us, since we are one. You are bearing the pain and fear of this all in your body, and I always feel like saying, “Thank you.” 

Chris, you are my soulmate. I can’t imagine another. I’m so proud to be your wife. No matter what the days hold for us, you have been and are the greatest gift. Happy Anniversary, my love. 

3 thoughts on “An Anniversary

  1. Jeannie Whitlock

    Thanks for sharing these stories and reflections, Sarah. The veil is so thin here. I wish you two were just growing old together in mocs and Northfaces, with a comfortable long runway for these kinds of conversations to take the time they need.

    I recently heard Christian Wiman read from his latest book. You stand with him as the two writers most skilled at communicating heartbreak, anger, beauty, and God in one beat. Thank you ❤️

  2. Emily Feely

    Your writing always brings me to tears. It is so true that you both, and your love for each other, made lasting impacts on all of the people involved in Chris’ care. It was heartbreaking and inspiring at once. Your strength continues to inspire. Happy anniversary and hugs to you.❤️


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