For better or worse, in sickness and in health. Those were just a few of the promises we made when my husband, Michael, and I were married six years ago. Caught up in the excitement of the day, I can’t say that I really thought about what these words meant, or how true they would prove to be. But I know now.
Today is our six-year anniversary and it also marks the sixth week Michael has been in the hospital after suffering a stroke at age 40.
Over the past six weeks, I’ve been shuffling between the hospital and home, and focusing on my family. But this week, I finally felt the courage to share what’s happening. For me, I’ve always believed that reaching out for resources and community, and sharing experiences, are the best ways to weather life’s biggest storms.
Today is the last day of National Stroke Awareness Month, a disease I was painfully unaware of until it happened to my husband, and something I had previously thought only occurred in older adults. Yet, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., but the number one cause of disability. More than 795,000 people have a stroke each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, a recent study found a 44% increase in strokes for people ages 25 to 44. Yet, according to the National Stroke Association, 73% of young Americans are not familiar with stroke symptoms and the need for urgent medical attention. Until very recently, I was part of this 73%. These figures are a large part of why I want to help spread awareness that strokes don't just happen to older adults.
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Admittedly, it took a while for the initial fear and shock to ease up enough for me to tell even my closest friends what was happening, but now Michael is in rehabilitation, and while he has lost a lot of his mobility, he’s improving little by little every day.
With some of the dust finally clearing, I’m now looking back, and realizing that Michael and I are two of the luckiest people in the world.
I love my husband. We’ve been fortunate to celebrate many happy times since we met, but I’ve never felt more in love or more connected to him than in the pain and dark. In relationships, everything isn't always a picture-perfect wedding day. We make all these plans for the future, but life can change in an instant and it’s who you have next to you in these moments that makes all the difference. When we struggled to conceive our son Miles, Michael was there supporting me every day through five rounds of IVF treatments.
Now, through all of the tears and heartbreak we’ve experienced together these past few weeks, what’s guided me has been gratitude. We’re grateful for the doctors, nurses, and patient care staffers who deserve so much more than a paycheck. Their kindness and dedication truly inspire us to keep moving forward. We are also grateful for the support and encouragement from close friends and loved ones who knew when to continue to reach out.
Most of all, I’m grateful that Michael is still here and I’m beyond grateful for the man, husband and father he is. He has had to endure endless tests, physical discomfort, living away from home and constant uncertainty about the future. He's faced it all with a resilience that leaves me speechless.
Today and every day since our wedding, I gain a bigger and better understanding of what these vows really mean. And every morning that I get to wake up and live another day with Michael by my side is a good day. Right now, the only hope I have for the future is to be on the other side of this with him.
To everyone out there who is walking uphill with their partner right now, keep going. I know how incredibly hard it is to watch someone you love suffer and to feel like there is nothing you can do to help. But I think just being there helps. Tell them you love them and be there, for better or worse. To learn more about risk factors for stroke, visit the National Stroke Association.