Choosing to Laugh
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My family all thought I’d finally gone off the deep end.
To be fair, they had some reason for concern: I was about to marry a man with MS. Not someone who would get sick after many great years together, but someone who was already struggling with a major health issue.
“Don’t you know what you’re getting into?” they chided.
“There’s so much hard work and heartache ahead,” still others added.
“He’s just looking for someone to take care of him,” another well-meaning family member said.
Yet I knew that for all the ways it didn’t make sense to marry Dan, it made sense in the one place that mattered most—my heart. And so I married the man God had delivered to me in a bright yellow wheelchair, and wrapped up that holiday season in a most memorable way.
To say that I knew what I was getting into would be a bit of an overstatement. Sure, I had some idea of what the road ahead would be like, but mostly I had a lot of trust and confidence in God’s ability to see us through anything we might face. I look back now and chuckle at how naïve I was in many ways, but the simple truth is that not having all the answers helped me more easily trust the One who did. I was just a gal in love with great guy, a guy with a heart of gold who made me laugh like no one had ever done. And I was crazy in love with him.
I have to admit that being married to someone with a disability could have made me sit around and cry all the time. The reality of what Dan had to live with every day was disheartening. Still, it didn’t take me long to figure out that he would play off my attitude, and I chose to look for moments to laugh together, starting with our very first morning together.
We were snuggled up in each other’s arms, the warm afterglow of wedding bliss still lingering in our hearts and minds. It had been a whirlwind week as we’d scrambled to get our marriage license and find a preacher for our New Year’s Eve wedding. As we gazed into each other’s eyes, Dan reached up to stroke my cheek for what I’m sure he thought would be a tender moment between us. But because of the MS, Dan’s hand spasmed as he reached out to me, and what I got instead of a loving touch was a smack from the back of his hand! But what could have been an awkward moment turned to the giggles as we realized what had happened and the absurdity of it all. Welcome to romance, MS style!
Dan never failed to give me things to laugh about. One time in particular was when he decided to do some yard work. We had just moved into our new home, a great house in our price range that would accommodate his needs. About the only problem was that the weeds coming up in our yard really set off my asthma. So, Dan decided one morning that he’d try to take care of the problem for me. Besides, he reasoned, it had rained the night before and pulling weeds would be easy. Or so he thought.
I woke up that morning to find Dan’s side of the bed empty. The house was quiet, a rarity for my TV-addicted spouse, and I couldn’t imagine where he could be. As I wandered into our living room, I was startled to see my new husband through the large picture window. There was Dan out in the yard, dragging his shower chair behind him. I couldn’t imagine what he was up to since I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to be showering outside. It didn’t take me long to realize that he was planning to tackle the weeds. Since Dan only had a manual wheelchair, getting across the yard took quite a bit of effort, between wheeling himself a little ways and then turning to drag the shower chair. I wanted to rush out and help, but he hated to be babied and preferred to do as much as he could by himself, even if it took longer. So I just watched from the window to see how he was going to pull this off. I don’t have to tell you what kind of knot was forming in my throat at his very tender and thoughtful gesture.
Once Dan got to where he wanted to start working, he transferred himself over to his shower chair. I guess he thought it would give him better stability while working and it would also be lower to the ground so he could reach the weeds more easily. All in all, it wasn’t a bad plan. But Dan hadn’t factored in just how wet the ground really was from the rain, or what can happen when mud and a man’s full weight on a poor little shower chair came together.
I was all caught up in watching my Knight in Shining Armor as he went about his work when I noticed that the chair was sinking into the mud. Down, down, down it went until it suddenly catapulted backwards, throwing Dan onto the grimy, wet ground. Up, up, up went his legs and arms, standing rigid to the sky because, well, his arms and legs often became rigid for no good reason because of the MS. His brain was yelling, “Bend,” but his body was saying, “I don’t think so!” A cow that’s been tipped had nothing on Dan!
I ran out to him, trying to contain my laughter until I was sure he was okay. I was trying very hard to be the dutiful good Christian wife, but I must admit that it was difficult in that moment. When husband’s get tipped over like that, it’s just plain funny whether they’re disabled, or not.
I bent down beside him and saw the sparkle in his eye. Much to my relief, he was okay.
“I’m on my back like a bug, aren’t I?” Dan said to me in his characteristic wry sense of humor.
“Yeah, pretty much, dear,” I answered.
“Tell me that I didn’t fall in dog poo,” he said with a bemused expression on his face.
We had three dogs at the time, so the odds weren’t exactly on his side.
I rolled him over to check out the damage. Mud and grass were stuck to his backside, but, amazingly, no doggy business! God, in his grace, had allowed Dan to fall between two piles of stuff, but not on them. Once we realized that he had escaped the wrath of poo-dom, we burst into laughter that was a combination of praise and joyful thankfulness. Dan wasn’t hurt, and he wasn’t wearing doggy doo, either. Life just didn’t get any better than that! We couldn’t know then that we were making yet another silly memory that would sustain us as the MS took over his body and left us with less and less to laugh about.
Now that Dan is gone, I look back fondly on times like the first morning of our married life together and when he tried to do yard work. Of course it wasn’t funny that his body would behave in such unpredictable ways, but I’m glad God showed us that there were two ways to look at anything life threw at us, and choosing to laugh was the better way. We didn’t kid ourselves about what MS could do, and we lived every day with the reality that Dan would likely not get to live into old age. Still, by choosing laughter—that wonderfully silly, giggle-box kind that makes your eyes water and your cheeks ache—we opened our hearts to the joy that each and every moment could bring.♥
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