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'The Man You Married Does Not Exist Anymore'

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With tears in her eyes, she looked at me and said, “I want the man I married. I want him back. Where is he?” Full of anger, I looked at her and simply said, “The man you married does not exist anymore, and I don’t think he is ever coming back.” With that, I stormed out of the house — neither of us sure if I would ever return.

It had been a hell of a few years. There had been some amazing highs, but more devastating lows were about to come. My wife and sister had just given birth to my daughter and nephew. My wife’s pregnancy had been extremely hard, she had been in and out of the hospital five times, but I was a new daddy, my wife was doing better, and things seemed to be heading up.

Little did we know our world was about to change drastically. Three months after her birth, my daughter had to be hospitalized with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). The fear and anxiousness we felt at this turn of events was quickly overshadowed on the second night of our stay when we received a call telling us that my sister was downstairs in the ER with severe headaches. As tests were run, brain tumors were discovered. It was like getting sucker-punched in the gut. Fear, anger, sadness, worry, discouragement filled us, and we knew everything was now changed.

As a person and family of faith, we prayed and hoped for her healing. We rallied around her and did everything we possibly could to help, working to follow all the doctor’s recommendations. But healing this side of heaven was not the plan, and six months later, she passed. She was one of my baby sisters, only 16 months younger than me. There was not a time I could remember when she was not there, and now she was gone. God was not supposed to let this happen. I was angry, sad, hurting, and questioning even my faith. How could God let this happen? Unfortunately, we weren’t done yet.

Three months later, we received the news that my dad had stage 4 colon cancer. My other sister came to see me that afternoon, and I only got two words out before I was crying. On the sidewalk of my school, we stood there in tears holding each other. It was happening again; what were we going to do? By this point, our family was reeling. God, what are you doing? My anger, frustration, and hurt were all-consuming. I remember simply looking to heaven and saying, “Dear God, not again! Don’t do this to our family again!”

To the outside world, I looked OK and seemed to be managing things well, holding to my faith, and making it through. Inside, though, I was done. I was ready to give up my faith, quit my job, and even throw away my family. I was so mad and frustrated at life, especially after all I had already walked through with my health. I was just done. What was the point? If this was what life was about and where my faith got me, I didn’t want it.

I had always been optimistic and a person of deep faith. Walking through many trials and struggles I’d kept a good attitude, a caring heart, and deep faith. But that was over now. Tired of suffering, tired of my family hurting, and tired of the pain, I was angry and just did not care anymore. Crap was going to happen, so what did it matter?

Only those living with me truly saw this because I was pretty good at wearing the mask. I knew the right things to say and do, but eventually, that acting caught up with me, and the anger and frustration I was bearing finally broke through. This was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back — the moment I finally broke.

The stress our family had been under financially and physically was taking a huge toll on us and our marriage, both mentally and emotionally. Running on fumes and emotionally exhausted, an argument ensued. Honestly, I can’t even tell you today what that argument was about, but the anger and vitriol pouring out of me was astonishing, even to me. This was not the person I was — but this was what was coming out.

She sat on the bed looking at me, hurt, with tears, simply wanting the man she married, but at that moment, I could have cared less. I was tired of being the happy warrior, the strong one, the one who kept getting up after I was knocked down again and again. When she said that, all I could say was, “The man you married does not exist anymore, and I don’t know if he is ever coming back.” The hopelessness and rage I felt was destroying our family.

Tired of fighting and dealing with the crap of one thing after another being thrown at us, I was finally ready to give up. Hearing myself say this to the woman I loved destroyed me. How and why my wife stayed with me I will never know, but somehow, she did. Somehow, she found the love and the strength to keep loving me and caring for me in the wake of these devastating life events.

That year changed me. Some realities of life sunk in, and I realized that some things you just can’t fix. I wish I could say everything went back to normal, and I once again became my old self, but I did not. I did heal, and my wife and I found a new place of love, care, and commitment. I found a renewed and, in some ways, deeper faith, but that year changed the person I was and changed my perception of life. It gave me a soberness I had not had before, and while I had a deep appreciation for the time and people I had in my life, there was hurt and wounds that continue even to this day.

Some of these same feelings I dealt with again when I learned of my Parkinson’s diagnosis, and I would be lying if I said, as hopeful and optimistic as I am, there are not still days of anger and frustration, and days when I want to give up. Walking through my previous struggles has given me the perspective and strength I needed to walk this current path, hopefully, a little better, but it is still hard, and still hurts.

While my wife never did get back the man she married, this new man has learned and grown, and we have found that place of peace and love — at least most days — that we need as we walk through this latest trial. I am not the man she married, but she is not the woman I married either — which is good — because I am not sure those two people would have survived this. Our relationship was forever changed that year as we found our footing to begin a fresh start in the wake of these tragedies. I realized that these events shaped me and made me and our relationship what it is today. I still battle many of the same things I battled that year, and sometimes it is hard not to be that person again.

It took understanding and sacrifice to walk this path — sacrifice born of a special and deep love and commitment. Even when I was pushing her away, she held me close and helped me heal. That is the loving sacrifice that so many make who help us on our journey. If we had let it, anger and hurt would have destroyed us, and at times we let it, and that is the true choice we each have as we walk the path of grief, loss, trauma, and trials — it can be what separates us or what bonds us together, but regardless, it will change you, just as it changed me.

There is forever a hole where my sister lives now. Some days it is more painful than others, but I have finally learned how to live with it day by day. After your loss, your trauma, your diagnosis, you will never be the person you were before, but only you can choose the person you will become, and only together can you and those around you choose what your life together will look like. Yes, these things will change you, but just like anything in life, what we choose to do with it is what really matters.

Getty image by PeopleImages

Originally published: February 4, 2022
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