I am SO THANKFUL to Linda for sharing this story today. It is often a hard thing to talk about. When someone you love gets a sickness that changes their personality, especially when it is your spouse and you have a lot of kids to care for. For those of you who are my neighbors, Linda is Sarah Skeem’s mom. Sarah is a friend so dear to my heart. I am convinced we were best friends in heaven. She is someone who is always there for me, even when life is crazy and we don’t see each other very often. And her mother has a heart of gold. I have learned a lot from watching the strength of their family. More than anything Linda hopes that if you are going through a similar experience that you will know that you are not alone. That God works alongside each of us to help us through whatever comes our way.
“Emma asked me to share a little bit about my experiences with my husband’s health problems over the years and his death three years ago. I have to admit that initially I didn’t want to do this, mostly because I am baffled and embarrassed by my emotional coping style. But I am grateful for an opportunity to share a little of what I have learned and report a “happy ending”. Let me give a quick over-view of our story and maybe in the process, I can explain what I mean.
Jack and I were married in 1968. We were deeply in love and very united in our devotion to the Lord and our church. I was young and had completed only one year of college. I quit school to go to work so Jack could finish his degree. We had our first of eight children in 1969. Jack had great ambitions for financial success, mostly because he wanted to be able to help others. He was very entrepreneurial and after he graduated from college, he embarked on a roller coaster career in a variety of investments, ranging from stocks, mutual funds and real estate to commodities and precious medals.
During our first year of marriage, he began to suffer from back pain. Over the years, his pain intensified and spread to other parts of his body. Not surprisingly, his physical pain and the stress from his turbulent business life added a lot of depression and anxiety to the mix. There were many times over the years that he became suicidal. His health problems dominated our world.
Meanwhile, we were doing life—raising children, keeping up a home, paying bills. There were happy times and lots of love. But there was so much stress, for both of us. I felt like a single mom most of the time and even considered divorce. I agonized over his health problems and searched constantly for help. We went to countless doctors and alternative practitioners, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, after about three decades of this, he was in a car accident that seemed to be the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. He suffered what I can only assume was a nervous breakdown. His physical, mental and emotional state prevented him from being able to work or even deal with ordinary life and he became something of a recluse.
I had been working at a part time job but at this point I needed to find something full time. While I was at work all day, he was home alone getting more depressed and feeling like a complete failure. But, thanks to opportunities offered through our church, he was able to serve at the prison and the county jail as a religious instructor for a few years. These experiences were actually very therapeutic to him and he began to regain some mental and emotional equilibrium.
His physical health, however, continued to decline and became ever more baffling. Part of the mystery was solved when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease around the age of 55, which explained a lot of the weird symptoms that had been tormenting him and ultimately led to his death at the age of 69.
Now to the point of all of this, which is what Emma asked me to share….how did I cope? I feel quite abnormal in my reactions. I did agonize for him and was often very frustrated with him. I was also frustrated and confused with myself because the way I coped was to emotionally shut down. With 7 (living) children, I had to keep going and couldn’t afford to fall apart. So, I often felt robotic and numb as I went through the motions of living. I was very good at putting on a happy face and putting one foot in front of the other. I felt guilty that I didn’t seem to have normal emotions, and I still struggle with this tendency. Maybe I am “wired” this way so that I could bear the burdens that were given to me. I read an article once called “The Gift of Detachment”. I have that gift, and while it sometimes makes me feel broken, it also serves to keep me steady and serviceable.
I realize this all sounds very negative, but I don’t actually feel that way about it. I feel incredibly blessed. What really got me through those hard years, and my current challenges, is my faith in God and His Son, Jesus Christ. I know without doubt that I was and am carried by the Lord every single day. He has been so patient, gracious and gentle with me. Prayer and scripture time became my lifeline. I marvel that my life has been woven with trials to stretch me and compensating tender mercies to comfort and strengthen me.
We reached a point in our marriage where there was almost no emotional connection between us. I harbored a lot of resentment and discouragement. But over time, our relationship was healed. I was led to many books, classes, articles, etc. that helped me see my part in our problems and taught me how to reframe my attitude. The book that had the most profound impact on me was Bonds the Make Us Free, by Terry Warner. I learned to let go of my immature expectations of what I thought marriage should be and allowed a more realistic and compassionate relationship to be born.
The last few years of Jack’s life were very hard, but were also filled with a miraculous healing of our hearts and his relationship with me and our children. He came to a peace of mind about himself and his life. One of our daughters says that ‘God is the great recycler because He can take all of our garbage and turn it into something beautiful’. I have experienced the truth of that and would say to anyone who is in a grueling trial to keep going and believe in God’s power to heal and bring peace, love and joy to you and yours.”
I just love to read Linda’s words over and over. She has such great wisdom to impart. I love her daughter’s words of God is the Great Recycler. We have to believe that. Because in all our relationships we can’t be perfect, but we can hope for beauty to come as we keep trying. Linda didn’t give up and say oh well, she worked on herself. I have come to see that for myself too. I can’t change anyone, only myself. And the way to successfully change ourselves is hand in hand with Heavenly Father.
I hope that as you gather often with your family this month, that you will step back and think about how you can make your relationships more beautiful and full of joy. When we ask Heavenly Father to see our family members through His eyes, our love for them expands exponentially. I love you all and consider you one of my greatest gifts from God on this earth.
Life is Good. Share the Good.