By Keith Penrod
I just read a story about a man wanting a divorce because he had fallen in love with a lady with whom he had been having an affair. When he told his wife, she asked him to wait a month and carry her to the door every day during that time. He later found out that she had cancer and knew she would soon die. Whether it is true or not, this story was very poignant to me because it hits so close to home.
If you are yet unaware, I was married for three years. My wife Karen had cancer that whole time. In fact, she was diagnosed 4 years prior to our wedding. For the first year of our marriage, she lived a normal life. She had been through many different treatments, but for this year-ish, she did not have any treatments. Her hair grew out, and it was beautiful. She was very strong. Then, the cancer came back and she started one study drug and then another. She was diagnosed as terminal in March of 2009, and passed away that June.
I stayed by her this whole time. I was loyal to her. I went with her to the hospital as often as I could. I slept in her hospital room, sometimes in her bed with her and sometimes on the fold-out chair/bed. Sometimes she would wake in the middle of the night with excruciating pain. The least I could do was walk over to the medicine cabinet on the rare occasion that she would accept her pain medication.
Her body slowly shut down. I was with her the whole time, helping her through this difficult experience. Her mother was too, and it was good to have her around because she is an RN. It pained me to see her like that. What hurt so much was that she always wanted to be productive and work hard. She wanted to keep her job as a school teacher. She even had a phone interview while we were in Utah so that she could maintain her position, which was (because of a technicality in district policy) up for re-hire. My loyalty to her really did pale in comparison to the strength she herself exhibited. But, loyal I was.
She wanted to attend a music education conference while were in Utah. BYU has an excellent program that they run every year. She had attended it two years prior and wished to attend the second year (it was a three-year program). She was unable to walk far distances, so I would push her around in a wheelchair. It was an all-day conference, several hours of instruction each day. I attended all of it with her (glad that they didn’t make me pay the tuition too). I took her to see every family member that she wanted to see one last time. I took care of her personal needs, again with the assistance of her mother, when she became incapable of doing it herself.
There was no point in time where I regretted my position. My only wish to be removed from the situation was that she herself did not have to suffer the way she suffered. To leave was simply not a question, not at any point in time. Not before she was diagnosed as terminal, and not afterward either. She needed a man by her side, and I needed her. I relied on her strength many times, and I know that she relied on mine as well. It is true that we humans strengthen each other. We need each other to pass through difficult times.
I cannot judge anyone else. It is not my place to say what other people should do in their relationships, but I can say what I will do in mine. I love Conrad very much. I love him fiercely and intensely. And I feel a strong sense of loyalty to him. I know he feels the same for me. I know that I will be loyal to him, just as I was loyal to Karen. I know that I will stand by his side through all of the difficulties he may face. If he were to become ill, I would be by his bedside. If he were to face a challenge, I would face it with him. If we were to have a misunderstanding, I would give him the benefit of the doubt.
I want to end just with my belief that more loyalty would make the world a better place. That if people did not so easily give up on their marriage, there would be more love and less hate. More kindness and less cruelty. More peace and less hurt. What if we were to place the needs of those around us above our own needs? What if we each thought “How can I lighten another’s load?” rather than “What can the world do for me?” How much more pleasant would life be if we each gave more and took less?
And to my loving Conrad, may we grow old together in love and loyalty.
Keith Penrod recently finished his PhD in Math and lives in Tennessee with his (future) husband.