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Undergraduate: Wedding Planning With a Chronic Illness

As someone with serious chronic illness in her family, this post speaks worlds to me. But more than that, it speaks about the issues we’re all dealing with: accepting our own frailty, allowing our partners to love us because of it, not in spite of it, and learning to celebrate anyway. It is one of those posts that all of us have something to learn from, no matter how different our circumstances are. It’s deeply lovely and deeply true.

This year, I got engaged to my long time boyfriend, C (short for Captain Professor Glitterbang, a nickname bestowed upon him by my best guy friend for no apparent reason). It has been a year of highs and lows: being given a four generation old diamond ring by his mother, suffering a mild traumatic brain injury that left me unable to return to work for seven months, getting engaged in my favorite childhood sculpture garden, experiencing major delays in recovery due to my underlying chronic illness, canceling a family engagement party when I ended up in the hospital for two nights, and finally, in October, returning to work and many conversations with our families to plan a wedding.

All the divorced women in my life tell me to enjoy every blissful moment of our engagement, as they did theirs with their ex-husbands. This not only makes me worry about their mental health, but also makes me a little crazy. I’m having a hard time here admitting that this is hard, but being sick and injured and planning a wedding can sometimes suck. Okay? We all know that planning a wedding can be challenging at times anyway, even with as lovely and patient and one-special-snowflake as we all are, but combined with the unemployment settled comfortably in our cozy apartment, my divorced parents’ bickering, and the fears plaguing me late at night about being too sick to stand up through my whole wedding, this has been a mixed bag.

It doesn’t help that deep down, I want to marry C, but I don’t want this life for him. He does all the laundry, the grocery shopping, and the dishes. He takes care of me. And I keep telling people it’s because I’m post-concussive, but, really, it has always been this way, because my energy is circumscribed by my illness and he fills in the gaps mostly uncomplainingly.

My health has caused hiccups before, causing deans to tell me to take leaves of absence from college, alienating many people close to me, and limiting the amount of travel I can do for my very travel-intensive job. And while I finished school on time, rock my job when I’m well enough to, and find friends who can deal with my health, I still wait for it to alienate C and limit our relationship. But that moment never comes. I’m incredibly lucky, I know, that it hasn’t and that he accepts our life for what it is enough to want to marry me. Except that I don’t want him to accept how I am. I want him to love just the best me, because I don’t want to have to accept what I am at my worst.

I wanted us to spend this year enjoying the planning, enjoying the joy, not holding hands in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms. To make a wedding happen, though, and to have a marriage, I have to get past that. I have to come to terms with the fact that he’s a grown-ass man who is making his own decision, and his decision is to be there with me for this. For our life together, even if I want a life for him that’s better than sleeping on wooden chairs next to a hospital bed before age thirty.

I’m realizing, as I write this, actually, that maybe part of the reason I’m marrying him is because he can accept what I can’t about me, that while I can only sometimes see being sick as just one small part of me, he always can put it in perspective. He knows that it’s okay to put aside dress shopping until I recover from the MTBI, even if that means I only have the timeline for a preowned wedding dress when I want a new one. He thinks that hiring Ang of LowBrow Events to day-of coordinate our wedding, even if she’ll spend most of it just making sure I have water and medication, is totally and completely worth it. He doesn’t let the “shoulds” of engagement get to him, which is admirable enough for anyone to learn from, I suppose.

I’m not sure I have a lesson here, or a great story to tell. But writing this has made me realize what APW is always saying is true for me. The day I marry C, we’re going to be who we’ve always been. Our relationship will be what it always was, and if that means I have to take a break instead of a first dance, or if I just couldn’t spare the energy to make decisions about flowers and fairy lights and groomsmen’s suits, then eff that. We’re planning a wedding and I’m sick; we’re getting married and I’m sick; we love each other and hey, look, I’m probably still sick! And that is fine. It’s more than fine, actually, it’s amazing—not weak, not shameful, not something to be hidden or pretended away on this joyful day of our lives. Isn’t that what marrying each other is about? Not pretending any of this away. Letting my partner love me for all the wonderful, unfortunate, less than glossy-magazine-perfect things I am, and pledging to do the same, come hell or high water, whoever’s illness it may one day be.

I still want to be able to stand up through my whole wedding day, though. I want to dance at midnight with my oldest friends and my sisters, and I want to force C to dance with me. I’ll work on letting that go, but I make no promises.

Photo: Personal

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