Dorothy Cummings McLean

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Illness has taken away his wit and charm, but I’ve never loved my husband more

Dorothy Cummings McLean Dorothy Cummings McLean Follow Dorothy

July 18, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — For many years, I wrote a popular blog for long-term singles. It was called Seraphic Singles, and I met my husband within two years of starting it. Mark was a reader, and a blogger himself. He quit blogging when we got engaged. I think his blog was a cure for loneliness. Maybe mine was, too.

When I blogged about our engagement, readers asked if I would start a blog about married life. I didn’t like this idea. Although I knew an awful lot about being an unmarried Catholic thirty-something, I didn’t feel competent writing about marriage. What did I know about it?

Now I’ve been married for eight years, and my husband is lying in bed, brain damaged, after the second of two invasive operations. And at last I have something to contribute to the age-old discussion on married life.

Choosing a spouse is probably the most important thing you do in adult life. I was 37 when I chose Mark, so despite my flibbertigibbet youth, I had had time to learn sense.

What I loved about Mark was that he was friendly, funny, light-hearted, clever and passionate about many interesting things. He could give the same lectures at his workplace with an enthusiasm that hid the fact that he had given them innumerable times before. He was also an enthusiastic convert to Catholicism, after a life serving God as a traditionalist Anglican, and he loved and feared God. Everyone I met in his Scottish hometown liked him. Meanwhile, I was attracted to his slim frame and big blue eyes. And he seemed to be highly attracted to me, which was a mercy, as I fell in love with him within 36 hours or so of meeting him in person.

Now many of these desirable qualities have been stripped away: for how long, nobody knows. Mark hides in his bedroom away from concerned friends and colleagues. He is usually sad and often confused. His eyesight is so damaged, he can’t read, and so he listens to the radio all day. At his most lucid, he complains. Heaven only knows when he’ll be fit to work again.

For the two weeks after his operation, Mark’s only topic of conversation was how much pain he was in. Morphine has taken away his appetite, so he is emaciated. He’s too tired to shave, he refuses to bathe more than once a week: he resembles St. Anthony in the Desert, or Saint Jerome in one of his crankier moments. One of Mark’s eyes is smaller than the other, and I don’t know why. The bigger one looms large in his hollowed-out face.

But I will tell you something: he’s got his rosary in bed with him, and he tells me over and over again that he loves me. And I love him more than I have since the first flush of newlywed enthusiasm. I married Mark because he was clever, funny and good. Clever and funny have been taken away for now, but good is left. And good is enough.

Good was enough when I visited him in the hospital and my formerly chatty husband had nothing to say. Sometimes we held hands and looked at each other, Mark through a morphine mist. Those silent conversations have been the most important of our marriage. Without the mediation of words, I told him that I loved him, and he told me that he loved me, and I think that’s the closest human love gets to Eucharistic adoration.  

As a romantic young woman, I hoped for a big, strong husband who would protect me from the harsher winds of adult life: loneliness, poverty, hard work, bad guys. As a more realistic middle-aged single, I thought more in terms of companionship, but the idea of protection was still in the back of my mind. I always appreciated Mark walking me home from the bus stop after dark. But now I see that this protector’s role is shared.

My advice to any woman considering marrying a man is to imagine him lying, sedated and brain-damaged, in a hospital bed. And then, less romantically, to imagine him, unshaven for weeks, complaining pettishly about not wanting to take a bath while she runs around doing housework, one eye on the clock that will summon her to her other full-time job. If she still wants him, excellent. If not, she should move on.

Once you’re married — sacramentally married, one adult to another adult, in full freedom — that’s your lifelong vocation. There’s no going back. You have to make it work, and this will always take work. You have to respect your spouse, and if he or she somehow loses your respect after your wedding day, you have to help him or her find it again.

“Whenever I find it hard to live with my husband,” I once told a fellow married woman, who was feeling out of sorts,“I just think of how hard it must be for him to live with me, and I cheer right up. It works like a charm.”

My married friend was astonished by this advice.

“No priest has told me that before,” she said.

“That’s because he’s not a married woman,” I said.

It’s the essence of marriage: remembering whenever possible to see the world, including yourself, through the eyes of your spouse. So in the end it’s not all about marrying “the right person.” It’s also about being “the right person” yourself.



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Dorothy Cummings McLean

Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and regularly contributes to Catholic World Report.  Her first book, Seraphic Singles,  was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013).  Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband. 

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