16: A Husband’s Magic Words

16: A Husband’s Magic Words

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

A Husband’s Magic Words

Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you’re alive, it isn’t.

~Richard Bach

I was a nineteen-year-old college junior at the University of Michigan and my fiancé, John, was a twenty-two-year-old in his first year of medical school. We anticipated spending summer vacations working to save money for the next school year. We’d set an early September wedding date.

How excited we were planning for our special day! Then came a shocking diagnosis from my doctor at the Student Health Service. On a beautiful April day, I heard her chilling words: “You have multiple sclerosis. Your symptoms are consistent with a diagnosis of MS, and that’s confirmed by the results of your spinal tap.”

I immediately recalled a line I’d heard in television spots about funding for MS research: “Multiple Sclerosis is a crippler of young adults.” I was terrified.

Mild symptoms had surfaced after a bout of springtime flu. I’d not thought much about the slight tingling in my hands, nor had I really considered that my occasional blurry vision might signal something serious. I mentioned both as minor complaints to my doctor on a routine visit.

“We’d better check into that. I’m going to order a spinal tap right away,” she said with some urgency.

I wondered why the hurry but complied anyway. Later I learned my symptoms were classic early indicators of MS.

What about our wedding plans? Was marriage in my future at all, and what about our plans for a big family? Could I even have children, and could I raise them from a wheelchair? How long would I live? If I had children, would I live to see them grow up? And the scariest question of all at that precise moment: Would John still want to marry me?

I needed a miracle.

When I told John of the diagnosis, he didn’t hesitate. That’s when my sixty-year-long miracle began. And that’s when I first heard John utter those magic words: “Of course we’re still getting married! We’ll live as though you don’t have it and go ahead with our lives expecting the best. If we expect the worst, we’ll probably get it. But if we hope for the best we’re more likely to get that. Attitude is a very powerful medicine.”

What a great and wise man I’d picked to marry! His response to the news of my diagnosis was upbeat and positive. I couldn’t help but respond in kind.

As a medical student who planned to specialize in neurology, John knew well what the risks were. Yet he was ready to face those risks with me. He was ready to hold my hand as we climbed life’s hills and staggered off life’s cliffs.

John’s been close by my side, ready to help hold me up when I needed him, but also letting me do things myself when I’m able. His steadfastness was the first part of my sixty-year miracle, but there was more to come. We followed John’s plan to live our lives one day at a time, not brooding about my having an incurable disease. Instead, he insisted we look ahead to our future together and to what we might achieve. Between the two of us, we accomplished more than I could ever have dreamed we would.

In the years after our marriage, John finished medical school, internship, and residency training in neurology. Much more followed for both of us. We agreed to proceed with our plans for a large family.

“We’ll just face the pregnancies one at a time. If all goes well, we can plan for the next,” advised my very wise husband.

Over the years we had five children: part two of my sixty-year miracle. They all turned out to be terrific, talented individuals. With their spouses, they have given us nine grandchildren, all equally talented and terrific. My grandkids would be glad to know I refer to them as My Miracle, Part Three.

Did I have setbacks during those years of child producing and child-rearing? Yes. That’s what life is like, even without illness. But each time, I recovered. After our middle child was born I lost the vision in one eye. After a few months of feeling like a one-eyed pirate, my vision returned completely. Over the years I had increasing bouts of leg weakness and fatigue. But what mother of five active children doesn’t? I continued to heed John’s advice: “We’ll just go ahead with our lives and expect the best.”

During the sixty years since my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis I’ve had a wonderful, exciting life. Because of John’s work experiences we’ve lived in many places: Large cities; medium-sized college towns; twenty-five years on a 185-acre farm where we raised our brood of children along with dogs, cats and ponies; ten years on Mustang Island, a barrier island off the Texas coast; and now back to peaceful living in Missouri’s Ozark hills. The variety of people and places in my life has contributed a satisfying blend of flavors to my sixty-year miracle.

On a personal level, many other facets of my life have produced incredible memories to treasure: finishing a college degree in studio art at age fifty; owning and running a photography studio for ten years; teaching guitar to youngsters during the 1960’s and learning all the Beatles, Baez, and Belafonte songs they asked me to teach them; running for the local school board and making a difference in children’s lives; teaching art to seniors; and tutoring high school dropouts in their quests for GED certificates. What a great ride it’s been! And all because, as I approached each new challenge, I had a husband, friend, lover, cheerleader, coach, and advisor by my side who repeated his magic words as often as I needed to hear them: “We’ll live as though you don’t have it. We’ll expect the best.”

My miracle began in 1954 when I was nineteen years old. It’s continued until now. I’m no longer symptom free. I use a cane now, and sometimes I need a walker or power wheelchair for longer distances, but so do many people my age. But I still play guitar and sing old folk songs for seniors at an assisted living facility. Recently I helped a young single mother study for and pass the GED test. Like I said, it’s been a great ride and a great sixty years of a continuing miracle. I still listen to John as he repeats those magic words when I need to hear them.

“We’ll just go ahead with our lives and expect the best.”

I listened. I always expected the best. And I received the best!

~Toni Somers

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