Knowing now what I recognize to be true — about life and love with my husband Geoff — would not have changed my decision to marry him one bit; however, if I could go back to that young woman, the one who rarely seemed tired or frustrated, the one whose own needs always came first, I would share the following:
- When life overwhelms you, remember that first date, the one where he picked you up with a backpack full of cheese and crackers and a bottle of wine. He was not going to let his spinal cord injury keep him from taking you on adventures to special spots. Remember that day, the warm sun as it turned breezy and you snuggled close in his 1973 Chevy Caprice convertible, top down always (on the convertible not you) head on his shoulder, as you drove home.
- When someone offers help, accept their help. You’ve learned that if you keep saying no out of pride or the need for perfection, people will stop offering. They start to assume you don’t need help. Here’s the thing, we all need help. Even you. There is more dignity in accepting help than pretending you can do and be everything for everyone all of the time. This is impossible.
- When you wonder for so many years about whether you would EVER be able to have a family, know that one day those long-awaited babies would chew on their dad’s rubber wheels when teething and later use the back bar of his wheelchair to learn to walk and, later still, as toddlers, shove him out of their way. One day, they grow into compassionate 8 and 9-year-olds who view their dad as a good listener, coach, skier, cyclist, fisherman, and rarely as someone with a disability.
- When you stress about family vacations or accessibility challenges, your siblings, parents, and closest friends would end up being the support team of a lifetime. Maybe even they too couldn’t possibly imagine the adventures our crew would attest to– cycling many miles, climbing mountains, backcountry skiing, fishing Squam Lake, snowmobiling the woodlands of NH, camping, tackling Disney World with small children, mastering the double-decker buses of London, fireman-carrying Geoff into the giant surf on the South Beach of Martha’s Vineyard and tossing him into the waves. Maybe it’s hard to imagine the adventures ahead, but rest assured they will exist.
- When you have your own dreams beyond growing your career as a high school English teacher, becoming a writer, publishing a novel, and not losing your independence supporting someone else as a caregiver, take the time you need to be that person. Only when you make time for yourself are you able to balance the juggle in a way that is healthy and keeps that ugly word resentment on a faraway island. You might also be surprised how your situation as a caregiver opened up this other world of writing in which you’ve found a global audience to read your words.
You always knew in your heart that one day you would marry the person who shared your sense of family and friendship; adventure and work ethic; love and compassion. People often tell Geoff how inspiring he is given the challenges he has overcome in his almost 25 years since his spinal cord injury. What you will learn in the years ahead is to be proud of the life that you will build together because it’s pretty damn amazing, and so are you.