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For Worse


Your people are my people, babe.

For Worse | A Practical Wedding

by Arden Ratcliff

Dear B,

You called me about an hour ago. “I’m not going to be coming to trivia night.” “Why not? I’m on the way out the door to pick you up!” “Steve got some bad news from the cardiologist. He needs to have surgery to get a pacemaker. In less than a week. I need to spend tonight with him.”

Your little brother, born with a heart defect, who just recovered from valve replacement surgery five months ago. Your brother. Your closest friend in the world. He’s going to have surgery again. This week.

As always, I asked too many technical questions you don’t know the answers to yet. Are your parents flying out here? (You don’t know. Probably.) What’s the recovery time? (You don’t know.) How will this affect your (read: our) Christmas plans? (You don’t know.)

I don’t know how many calls you’ve gotten like this over the course of your life. This is only the second or third time I’ve received one, and each time it knocks the wind out of me. How have you done this for so long?

I’ll never know what it was like to be a three-year-old who didn’t get to go to the hospital to meet his new baby brother because he was in surgery. I’ll never know what it was like to stay with friends and relatives so many nights of your childhood, while your parents had to be in the hospital with your brother. I’ll never know what it was like to have your parents constantly tell you to look out for your brother, to take care of him, to keep him from overexerting himself, to make sure he was okay.

But I do know this:

You’ve got someone to take care of you now. You will never be alone with this. I will be right here, at your side, for the rest of your life. I will hold your hand when you get phone calls containing bad news. I will let you sleep on my shoulder in hospital waiting rooms. I will text you how much I love you and am thinking about you every hour that your brother’s in surgery and you’re waiting to hear how it went.

As much as it hurts to receive this kind of news, as jarring as it is to our lives and our plans (and you know how much I love a good plan), I understand that marrying you means this is just going to be a part of my life. Your brother is always going to have a heart condition. We’re always going to be waiting with bated breath to hear the cardiologist’s report every six months. We’re probably going to spend more than one night on a hospital floor. We’ll probably miss a few more trivia nights, and dinner dates, and possibly even a vacation or two.

Tonight, while your mind is still racing from all the doctors’ recommendations and procedures and surgery schedules, I just want you to know this: I am here for you. While you’re supporting your brother, I will support you. I’ll buy your groceries and wash your sheets and do whatever else you need. And I promise, I’m not going anywhere. For better or for worse (and I know I’m signing up for a certain amount of “worse”) I’m gonna be right beside you. In the words of Luke Danes from Gilmore Girls: I’m in. I’m all in.

We haven’t written our wedding ceremony yet, but when we do, I’d like us to include this reading from the first chapter of Ruth:

Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go I will go; where you stay I will stay; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.

Your people are my people, babe. And no matter how many phone calls we get in the middle of the night, or how many hospital rooms we have to visit, where you go I will go.

Love you always, R

Photo from author’s personal collection

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  • Emily Ardoin

    I love this so so so much.

  • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

    Love, love, love.

  • gdreizen

    the tears. that pretty much summarizes it all.

  • Sara W

    Oh my. I’m now trying not to cry at my desk. What a powerful essay.

    • anonymousnoun

      I’m trying not to try too!

  • Guest

    Gah, Luke Danes! A model for SOs everywhere.

    • Emily

      I just re-watched some of Gilmore Girls for the first time in years, and it suddenly struck me how much my fiancé is like Luke Danes – I think he’s subconsciously been my standard for men for all these years!

  • Marcela

    That was our reading too! I got some flack from people who couldn’t get past the fact that she’s saying this to her mother in law after her husband passes, but it’s about choosing your people and building your family. That is what spoke to us about that reading and I think it is what also spoke to you. Many prayers for your brother in law.

  • Acres_Wild

    Yes to all of this. My partner has a chronic illness, and this is what I’ve been trying to get across to him. “For better or for worse (and I know I’m signing up for a certain amount of “worse”) I’m gonna be right beside you.” Exactly!

    • Rachael

      Yes, here too. My husband has a chronic illness and before we got married when I really thought about the typical vows of “for better or for worse” and “in sickness and in health” it hit me hard that there was going to be a foreseeable amount of “worse” and “in sickness”. I had always been happy to be by his side, no matter what, but thinking about those vows and the uneasy road ahead really hit it home for me that I was absolutely devoted to him.

  • Laura C

    Oh, man, that hit home, and not even mostly because I have a friend whose daughter is having problems with a recent valve replacement. It’s been a long couple weeks, is all I can say, and this is definitely a thing I am glad to have read at the end of them. Or in the middle of them, if that’s how it works out.

  • Anne Schwartz

    Guh, tears. So good.

  • Shiri

    Crying at my desk. I have a chronic illness and this… he’s so lucky to have you. You’re so lucky to have him. This is what being married is, to me.

  • emilyg25

    Ah, desk tears! This was beautiful, and I adore that passage.

  • Ruth

    For all of you choral music fans, my choir and I just sang a beautiful arrangement of this text. Here is the Salt Lake City Vocal Artists performing it. I think it really captures the emotion of the moment in the biblical story and the multiplicity of meanings that these words can have: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CatuVozZrh0

    • Jenna

      That was just lovely. Thank you for sharing it!

  • Stephanie B.

    Right here with the tears, too. SO MUCH TRUTH here.

    My husband and I got married 5 months ago, and we’re in our 40s, so our parents’ health and mortality is a very real specter looming over us. There have been panicked late-night trips to the hospital, heartbreakingly difficult decisions, and lots of tears.

    Something I told him early on in our relationship ended up in our wedding vows: “I will ALWAYS have your back.” The good times (and there have been so many!) are wonderful, but when the bad times happen, there is no one else in the world I would rather have at my back than him.

  • Christy

    This is amazing.

    I’m the “for worse” part of our union, as someone living with a chronic (but invisible) disability. People don’t understand why I want to leave the party at 9pm. My husband just offers to rub my feet and make me a hot water bottle. He makes sure that the computer is charged, the cat is fed and that I have tea when I want tea.

    I’m so fucking grateful that he loves me so much that he signed up for this. It’s not easy for him, but we all need someone to have our backs. I know that I’ll always have his.

    • Kat91314

      Virtual fistbump from another someone who lives w/a chronic (but invisible) disability that is both stressful and exhausting. I have an amazing FH who takes care of me even though he has a pinched nerve. You’re right, it’s not easy, but we take care of each other every day, and I literally can’t imagine my life without him.

    • Jennifer

      I’m late reading this, but as someone else who has a chronic disease — it means the world that my SO takes care of me. He takes me to the doctor (or makes me go) when random issues crop up and he’s just always there. I am glad for you too, that yours is like this.

  • http://flawlessexecutionevents.com/ Heather

    That was beautiful and heartbreaking and it made me cry.

  • Stacey Fraser

    We used that quote from Ruth, from “where you go” on. I couldn’t have come up with a better way to express that melding of not just two souls, but their families. I may not be as religious as I used to be, but sometimes scripture just gets it so RIGHT.

    Plus, my husband (and various members of his family) struggle with depression and bipolar disorder. So I, too, knew what I was signing up for and how “worth it” it was.

  • Margi

    Tears! I’ve been struggling with depression on and off for years. My boyfriend of 6 years recently ended our relationship because he could no longer handle my depression. Here’s hoping that I will one day find a partner who can live the words “for better or worse.”

  • liznaj

    that passage from ruth is one of my favs, so, so, so good.

  • Laura

    I’ve had a few people tell me that if I *really* knew what the “worse” would be when I say “for better or worse” that I’d never go through with the wedding. Thank you, R, for reminding us that we CAN sign up for both, and mean it. This was so beautifully expressed, thank you.