In Sickness and In Health and MarriageIn Sickness and In Health.

If you’re married, there’s a good chance that you said these words (or something very similar) on your wedding day.  I know that I did, and I’ve grown to realize that this is one of the most important and most difficult commitments we make when we enter into the covenant of marriage.

I’ve witnessed the “in sickness” part of marriage numerous times in the past few years with terminally ill older family members.  Each time that I have shared in weeks of pain and suffering by those experiencing the “sickness,” I have been left in total admiration of those that remained at the bedside in a remarkable demonstration of support, perseverance and faith.

These experiences have literally changed me and my appreciation for marriage.

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The Sickness Hits Even Closer to Home

Unfortunately, I’ve really been faced with this bitter-sweet reality lately.  Even though over 18 months have elapsed since his open heart surgery, my Dad has simply never recovered.  He’s a lot older than my Mom, and he’s led a very hard life. The past two weeks have seen a progressive weakening of his heart and his abilities.

My Mom signed up for this gig not once, but twice.  It’s a story for another day, but suffice it to say that she willingly committed her life to this man on two different occasions.  She made those vows to be there in bad times, for poorer and of course in sickness.  She’s experienced each for sure, but now it appears that the “Till Death Do Us Part” portion of her intentions may be come to pass sooner than any of us would like.

It Just Sucks

My Mom knew this was a likely reality when she married an older man.  My Dad had to realize that his heart would cause him trouble after years of abusing his body and neglecting his health.  Unfortunately, prolonged terminal illness is all too often part of life.  But it still sucks.

And it must be especially grueling when you are the primary caregiver to your ailing spouse, and you know that you are sharing your last days, weeks or months with the love of your life.  It’s times like this when life simply doesn’t seem fair, and we must rely on our faith to persevere.

Thank God for Marriage

As difficult as it is to witness these trying times, it really helps reinforce the importance of marriage as a true covenant (rather than a simple legal contract).  Our spouse is not only our dedicated partner through any difficulty, they are truly part of us and share in our suffering as part of a single flesh (the two shall become one).

Of course, I will never fully understand the role of suffering and pain in our lives, but with each new experience I am better able to understand the importance and sacredness of marriage.  The holiness required to serve our spouse selflessly in the face of such difficulty is truly inspiring.

I know the pain of sharing the end of our spouse’s life must be excruciating.  But wouldn’t it be worse to never love anyone enough to feel deep pain when they are gone?

I have witnessed the pain that can accompany the commitment of marriage.  And I am more thankful than ever for the privilege to be married to my wife and share such a powerful covenant with God.

Photo by DerrickT


About the author 


Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.

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  1. I’m sorry about your dad, Dustin. I also believe the pain and suffering in our lives are important lessons God is teaching us, and the lesson you were taught about the sacredness of marriage is significant, one that a lot more people in the world need to learn, so thanks for sharing!
    .-= Eric – BHF´s last blog ..Family Finances 101 =-.

    1. Thanks so much, Eric. I share your belief that there is good to be learned from all tough situations, even though it can be tough to see while you are going through it.

  2. Having done the “in sickness” for 15 years with my late wife, it did/does not suck!

    Taking the opportunity to lovingly care for my prescious wife and with the attitude of gratitude (to her ofr her love and Him for the opportunity to give my love LEGS), I was truly blessed to serve my wife and return to her all the love she poured out on me all the years we were married. Even when she was the most ill she loved our friends and family deeply and passionately and I selfishly was was not going to let her have all the fun in our marriage. I gave it my all and when my all was not enough, God’s grace, mercy, strength and love kicked in and we took care of my Suzi.

    I was her caregiver and nurse at the end. In the end she and God conspired to see to it that I was cared for and taken care of in the manner I took care of Suzi. She asked, sought and called out to God and He chose her sucessor and told Suzi of His plans for her and me. A few months before the end, Suzi called us in and we were told of the plan … with our Elder’s knowledge and approval we-three bonded and took care of each other and fulfilled God’s plan for our lives.

    If it’s His plan and not ours, there’s pain; self-imposed due to our selfishness. It it’s ours but not His plan there is pain; pain of the lack of complete control and the feeling that we did not do enough to help/protect/save them. If His plan IS our plan then while there may be weeping at night there is JOY in the morning (mourning) because His way is perfect and we have done His will, His way. That is all we should seek in our lives: His perfect and HOLY will, Nothing More, Nothing Less, Nothing Else.

    The JOY will come … look for it eagerly and rest in it assuredness.

    1. Wow, FreedbyJC, thank you SO much for sharing such a personal and powerful witness on this topic. I have read your comment several times, and I sincerely think it is helping me to shift my perspective a bit and look deeper to my faith. I can’t imagine you had this level of clarity at the beginning of your experiences, but it’s incredible how you are able to see the holiness behind it all now.

  3. touching post, and it definitely reinforces the idea that growing old has to be better when it is shared with someone rather than doing it alone. my mom always said that once the kids move out, its just her and my dad, in good times and bad, until their time comes. i cant imagine growing old without ever expriencing true love.

    Debt Settlement

    1. I totally agree, Stephan. I had a person comment once that they saw the early years of marriage as solid preparation for the later years in life when they’d appreciate being surrounded by a loving spouse and kids. It’s a nice thought.

  4. I am going through this with my Dad right now. January 10th, 2009, he had a heart attack that led to respiratory failure. Though the paramedics got there within 15 mins, my father was not breathing the entire time. So ~20 minutes without breathing…

    I do not see a light at the end of the tunnel, currently. My mother spends 12 hours a day at his bedside, whether he is in the hospital or the nursing home. He has been in the hospital 9 times in the last 16 months, the shortest stay being 2 weeks, due to infections in his pressure wound. I am taking care of finances for my family and my parents.

    There are times (because I know where my father will be after he dies) that I wish God would simply call him home. He does not recognize me. He is not the same man he was…

    1. I’m so sorry to hear the ordeal your family is enduring with your Dad, Michael. We went through similar long, hopeless times at the end of both of my grandparents’ lives during the past two years. My Mom (and usually I) were right there at the bedside, and it is very difficult to witness/experience/live through. In both instances, my prayers were for their death, which is a very strange feeling, but it was right based on their suffering.

      I’m sure it’s much harder when it’s your husband and you don’t want to lose that hope.

  5. Dustin, sorry to hear about your dad. Yes, it is painful to see a loved one’s health deteriorate.

    But if there’s any consolation, it’s beautiful to see your mom’s honoring her commitment to the very end. That, I think, is a very powerful and moving testimony that despite statistics that show otherwise, committing for life can be done!
    .-= Darren´s last blog ..Use Math To Alleviate Fear Of Stock Market Volatility =-.

    1. Absolutely, Darren. My experience so far has been very bitter-sweet in seeing his pain and her endurance for love both in clear view. Lifelong marriage is real (even though it took them two tries with each other to realize it 😉 ).

  6. Sorry to hear about your father, Dustin. What can I say? Our thoughts are with you.

    However, I can say your mother is a good woman, and a great example for others to follow.

  7. Dustin – We’re so sorry to hear about your dad, but what a testimony your mom is living. Marriage isn’t only for the good times, but it’s a strong support in the hard times. This is how God intended it to be – “it is not good for man to be alone.”

    We will pray for your dad, and we hope to hear updates on his condition. Thanks for the honesty and transparency in this post. These are the posts that are to most helpful no matter what season we’re facing ourselves. We learn from the examples others provide – you’ve done just that!

    Thank you!
    .-= Tom and Debi – The Romantic Vineyard´s last blog ..Mark Your Calendar =-.

    1. It is not good for man to be alone. How fitting, Tom and Debi, and thank you.

      Your prayers mean a lot to our family during this tough time. Thanks for being there for us.

  8. The neighbours next to my parents, and where i grew up, were married for 60 years. The wife recently passed away after years with dementia. it was so hard for him, as you can imagine. She had become rather hurtful in some of the things she was saying to him.
    its so easy, when you are a newly wed, to romanticise the “In sickness and health” and growing old together, but the reality of it will be difficult at times.

    Our prayers are with your family during this time.
    .-= Mary´s last blog ..Iron Man 2 =-.

    1. Thanks so much for your prayers, Mary. It seems that the end of life sometimes brings a strange vitriol and anger from the person dying aimed at their caretaker, even when it is the love of their life. We experienced the same thing with my grandma, and now my Dad has started being pretty nasty at times. Of course, that just makes things tougher but it seems to be part of the mental process for some people.

  9. Yes, there is no romanticizing death. There are probably no other earthly experiences that make us depend on God more than knowing we will lose someone soon, and knowing without God carrying us, the grief would paralyze us. How thankful we are for that comfort, and the clarity of vision that comes along with it as we draw new insight on our purpose here on earth.

    May God strengthen and comfort your mother most of all, but we also think of you and the rest of your Dad’s family during this time.

    As you insinuated here, the true selfless love of marriage is best seen in times like these. Maybe you could have foreseen your Dad’s health issues, but that doesn’t mean any one of us couldn’t suddenly be put in the same situation as either of your parents. What you’ve written makes me remember to be thankful for every day Jason and I can enjoy in full health together, because it’s *guaranteed* to not last forever. I’m not trying to be morbid–it’s just good to not take things for granted until it’s too late!

    1. Amen, Wendy! You are absolutely right about the need to be appreciate of each day we are *given* to enjoy with our spouse. It’s easy to lose sight of how delicate life truly is, but our time in this life is definitely limited and shouldn’t be experienced lightly.

      I need to go hug Bethany now. 🙂

  10. Hi Dustin –

    I’m sorry to hear about your father – I will keep him and your family in my prayers. I’ve been where you are (both of my parents are deceased), and while it’s not easy, you have great comfort (even if may not seem like it at times) in your relationship with Christ, and with your wife.

    This was a great post…there’s a lot I wanted to say (especially regarding covenants), but it doesn’t seem to want to come out at this point.


  11. Dustin, me again.

    Your story has struck a chord with many!

    It reminds me of my parents and my story, they are still alive and very much together. However, my mother suffered depression as we were growing up. Even though our childhood (I am 1 of 5) felt normal, I look back on the many opportunities my father could have left my mother when she had these episodes (some where she spent months in the loony bin).

    I reflect on the years that have passed and think what a champion father my father was and is. That he stayed faithful is a great example to those closest to him.

    Maybe I am just rambling, but your story has unearthed some emotions for me! Better go…I can feel a good cry coming on.

    1. Wow Gerry, thank you for sharing such a personal story with the community here. I really appreciate your candidness and support.

  12. Dustin –

    These are the tough situations that life inevitably bring. Sorry to hear about it and you and your family will be in my prayers. It’s another interesting thought that with your own spouse we choose, we sign up to be there with each other during life’s seasons, including the eventual passing of our parents. It’s a beautiful and sad thing.
    .-= David Patrick´s last blog ..Agree to Disagree? =-.

    1. You are so right, David. Without Bethany, the tough times my family has endured the past few years would have been almost unbearable. She is truly my rock at home.

  13. This really it home. My dad died about a year ago, but it was a long slow road to the end. He was a diabetic, among many other things, that never took care of himself.

    My mom, who is pretty healthy, stayed by his side and took care of him while still working a corporate job. Through thick and thin and sickness and in health, she never quit. I know it was very hard for her, and I’m sure she thought about quitting at times. I was hard for me, but the love and perseverance that I witnessed from her growing up has had a huge impact on my life. Definitely in my marriage.

    Yes sickness sucks, but love is stronger.

    1. Andy, your story really means a lot to me and I can certainly relate. Your Mom is incredible, and so is mine. I’m grateful that we both have had such good examples of the power of marriage and love.

  14. SO sorry to hear about your Dad hun.. that’s got to be tough I know. 🙁 But your marriage is strong, and is what will bring you through it as well as what will give you the strength to be there for your Mom, because she’ll need you most. Let me know if there’s anything I can do, I’ll definitely have your family in my prayers.


    1. Thank you, Cori! I always try to be there for my Mom, which then requires my dear wife to be the one holding down the fort at home. It’s a pretty stellar support system we have going here. 🙂

      Thank you for your gracious prayers also.

  15. I am sorry about your dad, and what it has meant for both your mother and for you. Still though, you are very right that it would “be worse to never love anyone enough to feel deep pain when they are gone.”

    1. Thanks, Rae. It’s funny because I forgot I said that, and it was really helpful to read those words tonight as it’s been a very long day.

  16. Great post, Dustin. Although I can’t share your enthusiasm for marriage, as I’m a bachelor (hopefully life-long), I completely understand and appreciate the amount of unconditional love and care one can show for their spouse, especially in dire situations. I’ve witnessed this first hand, when my father died of cancer almost ten years ago. I spent a lot of time caring for dad before he went to the hospital, and that alone was almost enough to drive me over the edge. So, when he went to the hospital I couldn’t take seeing my father withered and emaciated, and would often leave after very short visits. It was just too heartbreaking and saddening for me. But, my mother was a soldier. Mom set an example that I could not follow, but I will always admire her deeply for doing so. I think it might have been especially hard for her, as dad was agnostic, so the thought of not seeing him again might have made it even harder. Something as stressful as impending death, helps demonstrate the ability of many of us to uphold that vow of, “in sickness”. Those that have done so deserve many pats on the back.

    I’d like to add that the concept of faith can be and often is expanded during these situations. By that I mean, not just relying on God, but also other family and friends. Have faith that they’ll be there for you, to comfort you, and help provide assistance. Have faith that they’ll be there to push you out of the ruts you might dig by being depressed when someone you know is dying. I think it’s an important addition or compliment, not just because of its universal utilization and usefulness, but also because some people don’t have faith in God to guide them (whether by choice or by ignorance).

    I wish you good luck during this rough time, Dustin. I hope your family can make it through, without deep mental/emotional wounds. It’s a hard situation to deal with, extremely hard, but I hope you can deal with it the best way that you can. Take care.

    1. Thank you so much, Zach. I didn’t realize that you had been through so much with your Dad. I really appreciate the insights you shared here and all of your sincere well wishes. Thanks, man!

  17. Dustin, I appreciate you sharing about your dad. It’s amazing how many folks commenting here are dealing with sickness or death around themselves and their families. I guess it really is all around us.

    My grandfather passed awa a few months ago and at the funeral was a fresh reminder of what really matters. All the people there shared about the meaningfulness of their relationship with my grandfather. And while his death wasn’t unexpected, it was awesome to see everyone rally around my grandmother to comfort and support her.

    I don’t particularly like to think about dying, but that’s what’s going to happen. Serving your spouse when he or she is sick is probably one of the most selfless things we can do.

    Thanks for the post!
    .-= Derek Sisterhen | Past Due Radio´s last blog ..108 Past Due – Live to Work or Work to Live? =-.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Derek. I’ve been through several of these trials in the past few years, and I have to agree wholeheartedly with your last statement: Serving your spouse when they are sick is one of the most selfless things we can do.

      I was reminded of this again last night when we attended a benefit for a close family friend who has terminal ovarian cancer. Her husband is a true hero.

  18. Dustin, I’m sorry to hear about your dad and as many others shared, your family will be added to my prayers.

    I keep thinking about how your parents are still teaching you, a grown man with his own family, so much. They’ve done a great job!
    .-= Bucksome Boomer´s last blog ..Dental Care Makes a Difference =-.

    1. Thank you, Bucksome! I am learning a lot through these trials…I just wish there was an easier way to learn. 🙂

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