Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Time Traveler's Wife & Loving Someone with a Chronic Illness

So, I was in the mood to re-watch The Time Traveler's Wife for some reason, so I rented it, and with the opening scenes I was reminded why watching this movie is a bad idea: it makes me cry THE ENTIRE TIME, even from the bright-eyed beginning where she meets him (at least according to his timeline).

This movie is a mix of tragedy and hope--sometimes you wonder if this man ruined her entire life. She wonders it aloud at one point, after the romanticism of loving someone so unique has worn away--when his "bit of a problem" becomes so consuming. Putting up with the uncertainty and missing out when his illness makes her all alone. Missing important moments because of his "condition". It's a constant consideration in every part of his wife's life. Knowing he was going to die before it came. Knowing it might endanger their children.

The thing is, except for the dying part (thank god), some of this is too familiar. Though don't worry, my story has a happy ending:
When I was eighteen and had fallen in love with my first boyfriend, he sat me down about seven months after we'd met. We'd talked about marriage before this, but he hadn't proposed yet. We went out on a date, and I could tell something was on his mind. He told me there was something about him he'd never told me. He was afraid I wouldn't want to marry him if I knew, but he wanted to put it all out on the table before he proposed: his father had a debilitating genetic disease, and there was a 50/50 chance he would have it. Even if he didn't, any children he may have might still be in danger of getting it. It's an incurable degenerative genetic condition, onset as early as a person's 40s for some people.

I didn't bat an eye. Without pause I told him it didn't matter. I was so young then, but it was the absolute truth. I was eighteen, I was naive, and I absolutely believed he was my destiny. When I'd first met him during my freshman year of college, I was pretty sure I was going to marry him within a few weeks of knowing him. So I accepted without hesitation that whatever was in store for  his life, good or bad, was in store for mine as well. What was his fate was mine too, I believed it a 100%.

I didn't realize at the time how much my reaction meant to him--how scared he'd been that I would up and leave him. He'd read stories in the preparatory material about this happening to other's with this particular disease, how their loved ones had reacted.

He underwent genetic testing a month later (we'd gotten engaged in the meantime) and it turned out he was on winning end of that 50% chance--he was safe--and what was more, his numbers tested so low that none of our potential children would inherit the disease.
What was ironic was that, though he ended up being free of chronic illness, eight months later I fell ill with CFS. I was the one in a wheelchair a couple years later. He never batted an eye. I wondered later (after some very, very difficult years), why he hadn't just left me. He looked surprised when I asked him. He said: "You didn't leave me when you knew I might have Huntington's. In sickness and in health, right?"

After ten years I've finally found some relief from my chronic illness. For the first time in a very long time, I've been able to be a true partner to him, helping with all the physical things that needed to be done in getting our house ready to sell, in taking on more responsibilities with our son, more housekeeping.

But then I watch this goddamn movie and feel so bad for the time traveler's wife. Putting up w/ his condition even in spite of all the sacrifices it meant for her. It's what my husband has done for me. And that's what people who have loved ones do all the time. In the movie at one point, she says "I think it's magical."

And that's my takeaway--loving someone is worth the magical moments. Life and haps of fate can seem so cruel, but hopefully, in spite of the painful times, we can echo the time traveler's wife at the end of the story: we wouldn't have changed a moment of it.

4 comments:

  1. This book made me cry my eyes out. You are so blessed that you have each other and that you love and support each other through anything. Wonderful, heartfelt post.

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  2. This is a lovely post, Heather. I'm so glad you have each other. I've been really, insanely grateful to my own husband for loving me even through some rough times with my anxiety. He's a keeper. :)

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