In the Christian-centric society of our country, the common wedding vows that we all recite at the altar are as follows: "I, ___, take you, ___, for my lawful wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part." Those vows signify the unconditional love that two people have one another and how they've mutually agreed to love each other through every phase of adulthood, come what may. However nobody can anticipate the "worse". Nobody can efficiently navigate through the "poorer". But more than anything, nobody is prepared for the "sickness".
A few weeks ago, there was a great profile about NBA veteran Grant Hill and his wife, songstress Tamia. In it, the couple candidly discuss how their separate health issues became true tests of their marriage's foundation. After having a career-altering surgery on his ankle, Hill contracted a serious staph infection that almost killed him. He told Michael Martinez of FSNWest "You see each other at your weakest, at your most vulnerable, and that can either tear you apart or make you stronger. We’ve certainly been through sickness and through health." As if that wasn't enough, Tamia was diagnosed with MS in 2003. Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the nervous system that effects communication between the brain and spinal cord. Nearly simultaneously, the couple battled through individual sickness as a united front. They relied on each other for support and the adversities they face individually allowed them to honor their vows in a way most couples will never understand.
But are the Hills an anomaly?
According to a 2009 study conducted by the journal Cancer, they are indeed the exception. Statistically, men are seven times more likely to abandon an chronically ill wife than women are. By in large, the main reason for that is care-taking is traditionally a woman's job. It's not to say that men don't and won't assist in the care of an ill spouse. It's just that after some time, studies show that one of two things will happen; he'll transfer that responsibility to someone more capable, either family or a professional nurse or he'll leave altogether. Women, in stark contrast, always stay. A woman's love tends to embody dedication, regardless of what the sickness is and when it has its onset. In sheer observation, you can go to any cancer or cardiac unit in the country and overwhelmingly see married women waiting hand and foot, trying to nurse their husbands back to the health or make the next phase comfortable. The reverse is rare.
When you're in the fruitful years of your marriage, you're not thinking far ahead as nursing homes and surgical wounds to care for. You're expecting to not face that until you're well into your 60s, maybe 70s. However, today, certain diseases are plaguing people as young as 25. Brandi Maxiell, wife of NBA player Jason Maxiell, has been battling ovarian cancer since 2007. The high school sweethearts got married despite her sickness and Maxiell being on the road for much of the year. Like the Hills, the Maxiells are another couple that has experience both the good and the bad of the wedding vows we all take.
Taking care of a sick spouse can bring about many different types of emotions. Those feelings include shock, anger, depression, abandonment, and resentment. The logic in us often just wants to do the right thing and see our loved one back to their old selves. But the reality is often that when that storm of their life comes, it's a time where we have to be more selfless than we've ever been. Sometimes their recovery, and even their life, may depend on it.