Diary of a Marriage: My Safety Net

What happens when the people you lean on the most suddenly need you?

When do you and your groom lean on each other most? Jupiterimages courtesy of ThinkStock.com.

When my dad walked me down the aisle and kissed me at the end of it, it was less of a “goodbye” and more of a “see you later.” As in, almost weekly, for Saturday morning coffee dates and family dinners. It was a tender gesture, the giving-away moment, but in the end, it was just that: a gesture. Even though I was getting married, I felt a warm comfort in the fact that my dad was there, living about ten minutes away, to help with flat tires and holes in the ceiling and cracks in the driveway and leaky faucets. He could help move furniture and hang things perfectly straight on the walls. He owned all the proper tools, so we could borrow instead of buy. He was my safety net. Yes, I had a husband, but what he lacked in handiness and experience, my dad made up for.

And then my dad was diagnosed with leukemia and everything changed.

I remember finding out over Labor Day weekend a year ago, J. propping me up while I cried and tried not to throw up. And then I remember the queasy feeling of fear. My safety net was unraveling. What the hell were we going to do?

This man, my dad—the one who loved me first and still, even though I’d yelled horrible things to him when I was a snotty teenager—was fallible. He was human, and he was sick, and that was terrifying, and still is. Forget us, what the hell was I going to do?

I’ve always known, of course, that eventually it will only be J. and me, and that at some point, we may be the ones who have to care for our parents. But that seemed so far off. We were the ones who got sick and fell down and needed help. And our parents were there for support. When the time came, would we be strong enough to support them?

Something changed soon after my dad’s diagnosis. I started leaning on J. a little bit more, trusting him to fix things, to take care of me, to be my safety net. He became the person I relied on completely, and if he messed up or hung something crooked the first time, we’d just nail another hole in the wall. Maybe things were messier, not so perfect, but we were figuring it out.

When, a few months ago, J.’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, we found ourselves in the same place we’d been on Labor Day. It was one of the few times I’ve ever seen J. cry, and I hugged him until I thought my arms would break. We looked at each other, red-eyed and puffy, and promised each other in quiet little whispers that it would be okay, that we’d all get through this. We formed this strong little army of two, and we put on brave faces when we saw our parents. We told his mom how great she looked after surgery, we offered to take days off to drive her to radiation, we researched breast cancer and leukemia furiously online.

I remember thinking, as J. hugged me that Labor Day night and rubbed my back until I fell asleep, that this is the kind of stuff that makes a marriage. These tough times when there’s not much to say or do, and everything else falls away because, really, it’s not that important anyway, and you’re just left with the two of you, holding hands in a storm.

My dad’s prognosis is very good. His condition is described as the cancer that, if you have to get cancer, well, you’re better off getting this kind. Which sounds so stupid to me, but I guess what they mean is it could be worse. J.’s mom’s surgery was successful, and radiation is going well. She won’t lose her hair.

On the surface, things have gone back to normal. J.’s mom seems even stronger than she was before her diagnosis, if that’s possible. She’s back to wearing heaps of gold jewelry, like me, and her scar from surgery has healed remarkably well. My dad is feeling good, if a bit tired, and his blood counts have been stable for months. The days he gets his bloodwork done are nerve-wracking, but I try not to pepper my mom with phone calls while she waits with him. She’ll call me when it’s over, and hopefully it will be good news, and we can put off treatment for a while longer. And if she ever calls with bad news, it will be okay. J. and I have gotten bad news before and we’re still standing, and we’re stronger for it. After all, we have each other as safety nets.

Have there been any situations you’ve come upon that have strengthened the two of you in your relationship? How do you lean on one another in times like that?




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