I love my wife.
Like, a whole lot.
I would say it’s a fairy-tale kind of love, but I don’t remember any Disney princes holding hands and praying with their respective princesses while chemo made their hair fall out. So my love for my wife has gotten a lot more…real…recently.
In pre-marital counseling we learned the five roles of a spouse: best friend, lover, business partner, co-parent, and soulmate. Ashleigh is all of those to me, and (in true Ashleigh fashion) she excels in each area. I can’t imagine my life without her.
So today, our Seventh Anniversary, I’d like to shout from a mountaintop how amazing my wife is. But I don’t have a mountaintop, I have this blog. What’s the fun of having a marginally well-read cancer blog if you can’t use it to write an open love letter on your anniversary?
I want to say how proud I am of Ashleigh for the way she has faced her diagnosis head-on. For how hopeful she has been, relying on Jesus for strength, and for her faith that He has a plan for her and our family through this. For how selfless she is - her greatest concern through this is not her own health, but how she wants to continue to be a great wife and mother. Those of you who know Ashleigh know what an amazing woman she is, and for those who don’t I’m afraid no amount of my words here could do her justice.
We always intended our Seventh Anniversary to be special – we got married on 7/7/07, we were both born in a hospital located on 7777 Forest Lane, and our first chemo treatment last week was in room 7. We don’t ascribe any mystical significance to the number, but it’s been a running gag in our marriage, an inside joke God has used to encourage us along the way. We’ve decided that our anniversaries will be in base-7, so this is a milestone for us.
Sure, we never imagined that our Seventh anniversary would be spent at an appointment at an out-of-town cancer center. In fact, we pictured something much warmer, on a beach, perhaps including some kind of tropical beverage. Still, I’d rather face cancer in a sterile doctor’s office with Ashleigh than be on a beach with anyone else on earth.
I wish I could take credit for the love I have for my wife, but the truth is I had it modeled to me from an early age.
I cried like a little girl when I saw The Notebook, and for a long time I didn’t forgive Ashleigh for making me watch it. Now, before you revoke my man-card (it’s long gone anyway, didn’t you know I sing a cappella?), you should know that my grandmother, Nell Range, suffered from and eventually died from Alzheimer’s. I won’t give Nicholas Sparks the satisfaction of me re-hashing the
trite, emotionally manipulative plot of The Notebook here, but let’s just say there are a
lot of similarities. Towards the end, my
grandmother didn’t always know who my granddad was, and would often shout
hurtful things at him. Still, he loved
her in a selfless way that impacted me and that marked all of his grandchildren. It’s one of the reasons my son Noah is named
for his great-granddad, Noah Haskell Range.
One of the most poignant memories I have of him, even now that over 10 years have passed, is an altercation when we were all over at their house, and my grandmother in a confused state yelled some very hurtful (and untrue) things at my granddad, in earshot of the whole family. I was hiding out in another room trying to avoid the awkwardness and pain of the situation. My grandfather passed by me a little later and stopped, looking at me squarely from behind tearful eyes. His words to me are seared in my memory. He said “The marriage vows say for better and for worse. This is worse.” He said it almost cavalierly with half a shrug, with no bitterness, with the same inflection one might use to remark upon the weather. The message was clear: no mere circumstances have the power to affect our decision to love each other. You don't get a pass when things get hard; in fact, that's when you buckle down and work for it.
My grandmother eventually mellowed out in her dementia, and my granddad became “my sweetie” or “the man who brings me chocolates” (he would sneak them to her in her nursing home). They lived out their love story to the end, so much more real and raw and beautiful than anything Disney or Nicholas Sparks can touch. Theirs is a poignant story, but it’s the same quality of love and measure of devotion that I saw in my other grandparents (John and Nancy LaGrone), that I’ve seen for almost 40 years in my own parents, and that I see in my in-laws.
I know the old-school marriage vows are a bit out of vogue these days; the ones that say “For better, for worse; in sickness, in health; as long as we both shall live”, but with my granddad’s words in my mind you better believe I asked our pastor to include those statements in our marriage ceremony seven years ago. And I intended to stand by them, until one of us stops breathing.
Happy Anniversary Ashleigh, love of my life. To the next 120 years (that gets us to 70, in base 7). :-)