Joe and I hold hands in the car and also in the movie theater. He ends every phone call by saying “I love you” before he hangs up, and he sends cute text messages frequently during the day. He randomly hugs me, pokes me, or rubs my back whenever I pass by him in the house. Aside from my mother, he’s my biggest supporter when it comes to my writing.
He’s also a wonderful listener. If I’ve had a bad day at work, I can count on him to listen to my rant and take my side when I complain about the job stress. I’ve always known I could count on Joe, no matter what. I could never relate to coworkers who complained about their spouses because I can honestly say that Joe is my best friend.
Our relationship changed drastically, however, when Joe went on dialysis.
The warm, funny man I’d known since my senior year in college suddenly changed. He turned moody, and his health was unpredictable.
Our days of going out to dinner and spending quiet time together suddenly evaporated. Our relationship had taken a new turn, and I didn’t know how to handle it.
One evening I found him in the room over the garage lounging in his recliner while watching television. I could tell just by the expression on his face that he wasn’t feeling well. And that meant our plans to go out on a date were defunct.
I flopped onto the couch and frowned. “I guess we’re not going.”
“My stomach is killing me.” He rested his chin on his hand.
“I tried taking some medicine, but it’s not settling down. We’ll have to try for another night.”
I shook my head. This wasn’t the first time, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last as long as he was on dialysis.
I was tired of his illness. I longed for all we’d had before he became ill. I wanted our special couple time. I craved the laughter, the teasing, and the intimacy. All I wanted was dinner out alone with Joe, but he was too ill to go. Our plans were ruined yet again by his illness.
I sighed loudly.
“You know I can’t help it.” I could hear his frustration.
“Yes, I do know.” I stood and crossed the room before stopping in the doorway and turning to him. “But where does that leave me?”
He faced me. “What do you mean?”
“Where does this leave me?” I gestured widely. “We were supposed to go out tonight, and I was looking forward to it. We haven’t spent any time together in weeks.”
“I told you that I’m sick.” He enunciated the words. “I can’t help it. I’m sorry.”
All of my frustration boiled over and I couldn’t stop angry words from bursting from my lips. “We never spend any time together, and you never talk to me anymore. You just sit in the recliner and stare at the television as if I’m not there.”
“It’s not deliberate. You know that I wish I didn’t have to deal with this. I can’t help that I don’t feel well.”
“I know that. Believe me, it’s obvious.” Seething, I stomped to our room and got ready for bed. Once in bed, I stared at the ceiling and continued my mental rant about how unfair Joe’s illness was. But soon guilt crept into my soul and I regretted what I’d said to him. I knew it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t feel well. I was being selfish by pining over going out to dinner when he was struggling with the side effects of dialysis.
I had no right to take my frustrations out on him. I knew I didn’t resent him; I resented his illness. I had to apologize and let him know that I didn’t blame him.
Yet I was too stubborn and prideful to go over to the room above the garage and apologize.
After what felt like hours, I heard Joe’s footsteps approaching the bedroom. The bed shifted as he climbed in next to me.
“I’m sorry,” I said softly.
“I am too,” he said. “I know you wanted to go out tonight.”
“I miss us.” My voice was thick with emotion.
“I know. I miss you too. I hate that I’m sick all the time.”
“I’ll try to be more patient with you,” I said. “But you need to try too. You need to try to talk to me more.”
“Okay.” He rubbed my back. “Love you.”
“Love you too.”
Although we faced some difficult times during Joe’s kidney failure and dialysis, we made it through due to our faith in God and our faith in one another. We had seen some friends break up relationships and even divorce over petty issues, but Joe and I made it through a serious health issue and emerged stronger as a couple.
We worked hard at our relationship and kept the communication open between us. And we knew what was most important in life because of what we’d been through.
Watch the video for The Gift of Love:
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