Monday, December 13, 2010

For Better or Worse or Parkinson's Disease

The bride was radiant. The groom stood tall and strong, beaming as he locked eyes with his wife-to-be as she effortlessly floated down the aisle to Pachelbel's Canon. The wedding was flawless. Its music, the minister's message and the marriage vows brought tears to many eyes as a new family was born. Two families came together and simultaneously gave birth to a third. Success of this melding of families, cultures and personalities can only be judged when future dreams have become history, when promises prove to be a legacy. Given the journey together was just beginning, it occurred to me that the potential dangers and discouragement, threats and tragedies that lay ahead are rarely mentioned...except the foreshadowing in one phrase.

In the traditional marriage vows two young people bravely commit to faithfulness in an unknown future. The brilliance of the cameras flashing and the fragrance of the flowers seem  to leave statistics suspended in a state of disbelief. My eyes tear up as I hear the words, "for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health". Squeezing the hand of my bride of more than 36 years I remember speaking and hearing those words. As with most newlyweds, we were naive. We thought only of the 'better, richer, healthy' future that we would share. At the time we could not imagine the 'worse, poverty or sickness'. But in their own way, each of them came.

Little did we know that in the "worse" times, when children seemed an unexplained, unanswered prayer, we were being prepared to experience the 'better' miracle of three chosen children, perfect for our family. How were we to guess that in the cash-strapped years of educational 'poverty' we would receive the 'riches' of sharing friendship and laughter. And lastly, we could not have foreseen that sickness would invade our early empty-nester years in the form of Parkinson's disease, well before illness would normally strike.  But even so, there was an emotional health, a better perspective on life, a balance that has followed.

Truth be told, I always thought it would be me taking care of my wife in our old age.  I exercised, competed in short course triathlons and lived a pretty healthy life.  Renae tried working out in 1969 and didn't like it.  Despite staying thin, she has not tried it since (although she does come along to the gym some mornings for my encouragement).  But I was the one who got dealt the PD card.  I cannot express my love and appreciation for a faithful spouse to walk this path with me. 

I know that most modern couples seem to skip the idea of saying the arcane wedding vows, or even marriage itself, in favour of more glowing, free-flowing, dreamy language that does not mention nasty realities.  I know that the statistics are against a marriage lasting "til death do us part".  But there is not a day that goes by when I do not rest a moment on the words of that vow exchanged so many years ago now.  And I marvel at the blessing that has come through the 'worse...poorer...sickness' times spent together.  Marriage is stronger and life is better as a result.

At  every wedding I attend I pray a prayer.  It is not a prayer of fear that the couple will be spared all difficult times, but a prayer of faith that when challenges come, as surely they will, the couple will have learned to cling to the value of the vows.


  1. Bob,
    Simply fabulous! I great challenge to the next generations. Could I get your permission to post it on our Doing Family Right Website? If so and I hope so, please send the text and photos in a word document so my webmaster can work in on our sight. Email to
    God Bless you in the Journey you are on. Prayed for you tonight.

  2. Bob,
    You have hooked me. I watch for your posts. Each one plants a thought or provokes a question or convicts a weakness in my own life. Thanks! Today's post reminded me of a great book by an old friend, Keith Korstjens, called NOT A SOMETIMES LOVE. When Sue and I pioneered the marriage prep class at our church we would always have the engaged couples read this book, though few of them, I suppose, ever thought at that time it could be one day be practical for them. Do you know the book? I notice it is on Amazon with a new introduction by mutual friend, Joni E Tada.
    Merry Christmas...COMFORT and Joy to you all! Psailhamer

  3. Dearest Bob,
    I read your words of encouragement, hope and promise and tears welled in my eyes. For all the hardships of life the blessings seem to come in greater abundance and carry with them the sweet reminder that our God is ever loving, always constant and the Master of all that life brings us, especially the faith to go through the tough times together.

  4. Dear Bob:

    I ,too,write tearfully. Brian and I are celebrating 43 years of marriage today,Dec. 16th.

    I feel the same sentiments and pray the same prayer as you do at weddings.

    Again, wrap yourself in a bright red ribbon and sit yourself under the tree. You are a gift! And thank you for the gifts you are sharing with so many


  5. Bob - We celebrated 25 years together this year! Owing to finances it was rather a quiet one, but we celebrated nevertheless with our girls. Tim always thought he would be the one being cared for, not being the one doing the caring. The diagnosis of Parkinson's was a greater shock to him than to me and it has tested our relationship, I'm honest about that.

    Jo Collinge xx

    It seems so long ago now when we exchanged our vows, we were both so young, and who could have foreseen what has happened to us along the way. We have had tough times, but we've got through it, and I know we'll get through this!

    I agree with the previous comments...... Bless you and have a fantastic Christmas!

  6. Thank you so much for your encouragement and insight. Your post moved my me to tears. I'm 34 and am getting married next summer and pray daily that my mother will be able to participate in and enjoy our wedding festivities. She was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1993 when she was only 48 years old. Apparently that is very rare age for a woman to be diagnosed with the disease, which she amazingly chooses to call a "nuisance" over an affliction. Such a mindset is just one of the many things that illustrates her joyful, positive spirit. But sadly, PD has not been very kind to my mother. Nor has it been kind to my father who cares for her with all his heart. She has struggled significantly but never complains. She's a trooper as is my loving and devoted father. I can tell that you are too. :)

    I shared this post with my fiance who was also brought to tears. He and I have had the "what if" conversations about "for better or worse/sickness and health/etc" and we're both on board to stand by each other until the end of time. In this day in age I question how many couples even think about having these discussions. They are so important, not that we should be fearing doom and gloom 24/7. But things can and do happen. We won't be 34 forever! But we can pretned. :)

    Thank you for posting this. I will continue to follow your blog and will encourage my family members to do so also. We "PD Families" need to look a life a little differently. :)

    Wishing you upmost blessings in 2011 and many magical miracles.

    Happy days to you and yours...


  7. Bob:

    That was a beautiful and inspiring post. I found it through a google image search, funnily enough. I write a blog about Positive Psychology, and have lately been writing about what keeps relationships strong for my future Valentines Day posts. With your permission, I would love to share this post on my blog, giving complete credit to you, of course. I couldn't possibly say it better than you did. I wish you all the best in your journey.
    Sharon Carlton

  8. Sharon;

    Sounds good to me. Any encouragement that can come from this blog is a step in the desired direction.
    Thanks for encouraging me.



  9. You are a rare couple!! Praise God for gifting you to the blog world.