When a couple gets married in America, it is expected that somewhere in the vows there will be mention of "through better or worse, sickness and health, til death do us part," or something along those lines. It's a phrase that is utilized, but no one ever actually wants or expects to experience the possibly difficult side of marriage: a severe illness (whether physical or mental).
In 1984, my dad suffered from a major heart attack and was hospitalized for two months before he was healthy enough for triple bypass surgery. He even died once on the table. He then had to go through recovery and we had to change our family's diet. In 1989, my dad suffered from a major stroke which incapacitated him for over a decade. Because of that, my mom effectively had six kids to take care of and only savings to use. Until last month, it never once occurred to me that my mom would have left him because of it.
I was having a conversation with my husband about this and he mentioned that he knew a husband who had left his wife after she suffered a TBI (traumatic brain injury). My husband knew because he had been helping her recover and go through rehab. People with TBIs are not vegetables; they know what's going on around them. She was aware that her husband had left her and why he did so. How sad. My husband asked me about my parents... I had no answer except the truth: It simply hadn't occurred to me that my mom leaving my dad was an option.
I have difficulty not judging someone who does so, especially because it hits so close to home. I acknowledge that there may be situations that are extreme (and, in fact, heard about one this morning where a husband had MS and it affected his brain to a point where he became physically abusive), but other than those cases, how can someone simply give up on their spouse because things didn't go in the direction they expected?
We don't get to pick what our future is with someone and it's naive to assume it will all be roses. People get married and should be in it for the long haul. My mother had 40 years with my dad before she passed away suddenly last month. She didn't have an easy time of things, but through it all, persisted and fought for her marriage. She always, publicly, had a smile on her face. Privately, she struggled.
My dad didn't have it easy either. Aside from his own health struggles, toward the end, my mom had diabetes, chronic kidney disease, kidney cancer (which she beat), and colon cancer. He worried incessantly but never wavered. In fact, it only allowed me to see just how much he loved and cared for her, which I didn't always necessarily see when I was younger.
But a marriage is a marriage -- for better or worse. If ever my husband got sick or injured (G-d forbid), I'd follow my mother's example, tough it out, and take care of him. I'd expect my husband to do the same with me. We've even spoken about it and, as difficult and morbid as it is, have discussed potential medical situations and started preparing for their possibility.
I married my amazing husband because of many things: one of them is his strength. I need him to be my rock when I'm tired and to take care of me when I'm sick. I need him to be there for me and with me, and I know he will, just like my mom was there for my dad all those years. I married my husband because I know that, for better or worse, he will be by my side, holding my hand as my partner in life.