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This post has been brewing in my head and heart for weeks. I’ve been watching my sweet Taylor girl grow thinner and weaker, fighting a battle that she never requested. When your child is dying, and especially during the stages of suffering, grieving becomes the norm. Grief doesn’t wait for the day of death. No, grief begins long, long before then.
I’ll never forget the day that Taylor’s diagnosis of MPS was confirmed. Matt, my husband, is not her biological father and we married when she was 4 years old. The first day 17 years ago when he brought his daughter to the zoo and Taylor and I met them there, he packed her around for hours after she grew tired of walking. Within just a few months, Taylor had initiated his car with her puke and got into every type of mischief possible while with her “Daddy Matt.” When we received the phone call from the doctor’s office confirming the positive result for a terminal diagnosis with a slow neurological degeneration, I had to share the news with my Matthew. One might think that he, as a medical professional, would process this news with familiarity. But his medical knowledge played a different role in his reaction. With certainty, he knew the journey ahead of us. Tears began to stream down his face and after we held each other for awhile, he lie on the bed sobbing, just as I had done the night I faced the same reality. Oh how he grieved the loss of our many hopes and dreams for Taylor.
For 20 years, I’ve been the mama of a special needs child. It would seem that children are brought into the world for us to teach them. But I’ve learned that God’s plan is more of a mutual teaching relationship. Most of the time children teach us far more than we could ever teach them.
Year after year, Matt and I have watched family after family lose their children to disease. It’s heartbreaking to watch your child suffer and die. It’s also heartbreaking how many families are broken apart as a result of the long-term battle with disease. I have continually asked myself,
“What can we do to keep our marriage strong while we walk this journey of suffering?”
It’s only by God’s grace that we haven’t allowed the trial of Taylor’s disease snatch up the love we have for each other.
I’ve been thinking a long time about these 5 ways to love your spouse when life is hard. The marriage altar is a sacred place of promise where we vow for better or worse. I hope these purposeful suggestions will provide encouragement to you to keep on loving each other, even, and especially, when life is hard.
1. Remind each other of the desire to come out stronger on the other side of the trial.
When I mentioned last week to my husband that I had the desire to write this article, he said that trials can either make us or break us as individuals and they can also make or break our relationships.We must choose to encourage each other through a strength-building season.
2. Determine to forgive quickly and easily.
I know that some couples need to talk about every issue in detail. This is how they work through difficulties. And I get it. But ya’ll, at the Woj house, there is not enough time in the day to talk about every issue in detail. We often have to simply forgive one another and get over it. Period. When I’ve poured over the Bible and what Jesus said about forgiving, I could never find a clause that says something like “Forgive one another after you’ve received full explanation of the feelings involved.” Or “Forgive one another once all the trials have resolved.” No, the Word simply tells us “Forgive one another.” The quicker you forgive, the stronger you can live.
3. Accept the differences in your individual responses to sorrow and suffering.
People grieve at different times in different ways. We can’t control how we feel about issues, but we can control how we react to those feelings. However, we are all human. If your husband feels angry over unfair circumstances and you don’t, allow him time to process his feelings in place of condemning them. If your wife cries uncontrollably over what you feel is small in the bigger picture of the trial, give her the freedom to grieve in her own way. Recognize that you are two different people travelling a path together.
4. Remember to share both the burdens and the blessings.
I’ve found that one of the best ways to beat discouragement is to encourage someone else. Whenever I can find a glimmer of hope to be thankful for in the midst of our daughter’s terminal illness, I try to be purposeful to share it with my husband. And whenever I’m caught up in unpaid bills or spending extra time on the phone in order to get Taylor’s necessary supplies, he is great about reminding me of the blessings we have to count. Sharing the burdens AND the blessings makes a marriage stronger.
5. Spend time alone together whenever you can.
I wish I could give you an exact science to this statement. If only the perfect schedule for marriages existed, right? But we all know it doesn’t work that way. Whenever you possibly can, block out the distractions and connect with each other. Have dates. Drink coffee. Sit on the porch swing. Snuggle by the fire. Carve out time for each other between the necessary tasks of managing a difficult time in life. At times, it may be as simple as sharing a piece of chocolate over the kitchen sink or a brief kiss above the chaos.
One day this particular rough season of marriage will end. The hard time, no matter what it is, will be over and a new season will begin.
Growing old together would be a dream come true at that point.
Dream on, but love well in the present.
Preaching to myself,