“This is why we say vows.”

Those words lightened my heart as my husband uttered them softly in the dimly lit emergency room. The doctor had just informed us that I was going to be admitted for a series of gastrointestinal tests while I dry heaved into a pink plastic bed pan.

When the doctor left the room, I could not hold the tears back. After dealing with a rare, debilitating eye disease for the past month that rendered me useless, a second trip to the emergency room crushed my spirit and my resolve. I looked up at my tired husband who had been carrying a heavy load the past four weeks and apologized: “I’m sorry this is happening, I am sorry you have to take care of me.”

“Stop,” he said firmly. “This is why we say vows. In sickness and in health and all that other stuff.”

I always knew my husband would be there for me when I needed him most, but to see it in action, to see him honoring the words we said fifteen years ago. It is like viewing at a beautiful piece of art that speaks to your soul.

It also makes me wonder if I could be there for him as he has for me. But then I remember, that is why I said those vows.

This is why you have friends.”

One of my dearest sister-friends said this to me when I told her I felt guilty that so many people were taking care of my family. Unable to drive and relegated to my darkened bedroom due to extreme light sensitivity and pain due to enlarged cornea nerves, a community we only have been a part of for the past 18 months banded together to support us in our time of need. Carpools were organized, meals were coordinated, and people I had never met stepped in to fill in for my commitments. A day didn’t go by where someone didn’t text, email, or call to check in on me.

I was having a particularly tough day when I begrudgingly answered the phone knowing my sweet friend was worried about me. I couldn’t hold the tears back when she asked if my kids were doing okay through all of this. When I choked through telling her how supportive my friends — and people I had never even met— were to our family, she finally interrupted.

“Stop,” she said. “This is why you have friends, to help you through the tough times. You would be the first to be there for another family, so take the help and just say thank you. People want to feel like they can do something. They wouldn’t offer if they didn’t want to do it.”

And so we did — we are — taking the help, knowing it is the only way we could get through this time.

“This is just part of being a mother.”

A day after her 73rd birthday, my mom hopped on a plane from Ohio to Chicago to temporarily move in with my family.  Since she arrived in April, she has packed lunches, washed clothes, helped with homework and cooked meals. She has administered my medicine and accompanied me to doctors’ appointments.  She works tirelessly and without complaint.

One particularly bad day when I was in a lot of pain, I broke down. As I watched my mom finish the breakfast dishes, I felt overwhelming guilt and sadness for forcing my mom — a woman who sacrificed so much of her life to care for others — to now take care of me. It should be the other way around, yet I had lost all control of my life.

My mom came around the counter and wrapped her arm around my slouched shoulders.

“Stop,” she said. “This is just part of being a mom. I want to be here for you and the girls. I would be worried sick if I was at home.”

There was no bitterness, no resentment. It was unconditional mom-love at its finest.

Now that I am past the hardest part of my illness, I still feel overwhelmed by the generosity people have shown my family. I have tried to live my life full of gratitude; yet I do not think I fully understood how lucky I am for the life that I have until it was suddenly taken away.

This. This is how to live life.

In a world where there seems to be more to fear than to hope for; in a world that moves so fast we sometimes lose sight of what is important; in a world that always tells us that we are not enough; I have been shown by good people how to live life.

We say vows — we make promises —that we need to remember when times get tough. Not just in our marriages, but in all our partnerships.

We include people in our lives — we become part of a community — and we must lift each other up in our darkest times.

We need to forget the competition, the Mommy wars, the insecurities, and we must focus on what is important in raising our kids, including demonstrating first-hand how to give more of yourself than you at times receive.

I will always remember this time in my life as dark, painful and difficult. A time when my optimism was lost and fear smacked down my hope, and even caused me to question my faith.

But these past few months have also restored my belief that people are good — genuinely good, if you let them be a part of your journey.

Life is still uncertain for me. I have cleared several hurdles in fighting this disease, but I do not know if my vision will ever return in my left eye. I have options, but we won’t be able to pursue them for several months.

The old me would find this prospect — this undetermined destiny — overwhelming.

But this me. This woman who has been shown so much grace and so much generosity. This me knows I can live through anything.

Because I have been shown how to live life. And I intend to do just that.

On April 17, three and a half weeks after my first symptoms, I was diagnosed with acanthomoeba keratitis. Acanthomoeba is an amoeba that invades the cornea of the eye and may result in visual impairment or in some cases, blindness. In the United States, it is often associated with contact lens use. 

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