For more than a year now, I have been relating stories from and about well spouses. When these stories reflected a common experience, I wrote about them.
Among the many interviews I did and the stories I received were stories about simchas. These were simchas made in families where one of the spouses or parents was chronically ill. The stories illustrated every gamut of human emotions. They told about appreciating having a simcha, trying to enjoy every joyous moment, and what helped the families and what caused sorrow and anger.
I had put all the stories away to look at for a common thread at a later date. It was only recently, when my son was married, that I saw their experiences reflected in my own.
I’m going to spend the next few articles discussing simchas. I have learned much from others’ experiences and this has helped me handle the events surrounding my own. But first I’d like to share my own experience as a well spouse making a wedding for my son.
My son and his bashert were recently married. My husband had been in the hospital for two years (minus four months when he was home from Pesach till August). He was originally admitted because of pressure sores from his wheelchair, but what should have been a six-week cure turned into two years due to complications. His doctors assured me he would be at the wedding, and things certainly appeared to be progressing in that direction. The doctors were even exploring the possibility of him being home for Shabbos where I would be hosting my 20 out-of-town guests for the three Shabbos meals before the wedding on Sunday.
A week before the wedding, at eight a.m., my phone rang. The nurse at the other end identified herself and told me my husband was suddenly not doing well and I needed to get to the hospital immediately. It took a few moments for my brain to register what she was saying, and what immediately meant. I raced to the hospital and when I got near his room, the doctor intercepted me and took me aside. The first thought to go through my mind was that I was too late. B”H that was not the case. She simply wanted to let me know what was going on and what I was about to see.
The doctor told me that my husband was having trouble breathing and needed to be intubated and put on a respirator. I pushed her for more information and forced her to be more explicit. She told me he had a 20 percent chance of not pulling through and it was doubtful that he’d ever get off the respirator. When I entered his room, I saw that his mind was clear. He understood what was happening to him. He was surrounded with medical personnel. They were getting ready to take him to intensive care. They needed my permission before they could start the procedures.
A week later, my son was married. He had arranged a hook up to the Intensive Care Unit so that my husband could hear the ceremony. (They tell me a man in a coma in the next bed opened his eyes for the first time when the chazzan began to sing.)
We asked our guests to help make the wedding a “simcha b’simcha” (a joyous occasion full of joy) and give to the bride and groom the wedding day they deserved. Based on the stories I had collected and a well spouse friend’s advice, we (like many others before us who juggled tragedy and joy at the same time) read a note from my husband asking that no one discuss him tonight but focus instead on making the wedding joyous and special. And for the most part, people acted in accordance with our wishes. The wedding was beautiful and fun.
Our out of town guests, including my children and grandchildren, have left. The usual low that comes after a simcha, after everyone leaves, has settled in. My husband, as usual, has defied the doctor’s predictions. He has been downgraded to Intermediate Intensive Care, and with G-d’s help, is now off the respirator for half a day. They fully expect him to be completely weaned of it. And so I look forward to many more years as a well spouse.
I am truly thankful for the stories of other well spouses whose experiences in juggling publicly and privately two opposite emotions at the same time helped me through my experience. I look forward to sharing their stories with you in the next articles. I hope they will be as helpful to you as they were to me.
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