On the nights he is home for dinner, the boys sit next to him (if it’s an even day of the month), and on odd days, it’s the girls’ turn.
I sit far away.
Because I had over 15 years with him before we had these children.
And my heart is so happy he gets to be a dad.
I’ve loved him since I was 16.
And Lord-willing, I’ll love him for much longer.
We’ve lived so many lives together.
Art school (for him).
Basketball (for me).
Medical school (together — his brains studying, my job supporting us).
The Air Force on three continents and, as a physician, so much very hard stuff.
Suicides and depression and death and abuse and mistakes and accidents and illnesses and catastrophe and war … and the things you can’t forget like the child who choked just eating dinner and John tells the parents he couldn’t fix it and they cling to him and fall into his arms and they don’t take her home.
And so when I wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of sobbing from my rock of a husband just a few months after first hearing the word.
I am … shocked.
I’ve watched him perform CPR on a boat in the middle of the ocean and stood by helplessly as dead bodies are wheeled past us in Nigeria and pushed him out the door when a young airman has had a tanker flip on top of him only to see him return with a shake of his head as he tells me he had to pronounce the boy dead and I ask how old he was, and he says “twenty” and I cry while we push our sons on the swings.
So how is a virus causing him to cry?
I don’t understand.
He’s done much harder.
He works in an emergency room where he sees people at their worst and sin at its greatest.
And yet, this virus is breaking him greater than the infertility that brought us to our knees did a decade before.
I hold him.
We cry together.
We hunker down.
And make changes.
Protect his downtime.
For the first time in 25 years as his wife, I realize that he needs ME to protect HIM.
There is too much noise.
And I can help quiet the noise by listening to it for him and telling the noise he can’t listen right now.
When you are fighting a virus up close.
And standing in the middle of the storm.
And then coming home and hearing people telling you it isn’t real.
Your heart breaks a little.
When you are expected to PROVE you are in a war, by having to tell stories of the casualties.
It crushes you just a little bit more every time.
But even more telling is that this weariness doesn’t come out while he is awake.
While he is awake, he says he is OK, and he plays with the kids and tends to our farm.
It comes out in his sleep.
The COVID grief has forced its way out of him.
To a fault.
He’s going onto the frontlines.
Fighting on so many battlefields.
Fighting the virus.
Fighting the public.
Protecting his family.
And his body is saying: “I’m breaking.”
So we listen as sobs wrack his body like I have never heard from him, and I don’t tell anyone about it publicly.
We move forward together and survive a patient giving the virus to him and him infecting us and all of us being sick together.
And then nearly a year after it starts, I watch as he comes home and doesn’t go first to the side door to shower, and he reaches for me and kisses me without first disinfecting his entire self, and I think …
We made it.
He still sees this virus, and he still sees the other things that I think are even more horrific, yet you can see all over him that his spirit has come down to rest.
And we will rest together.
Our little family in Tennessee.
Wendi Kitsteiner is an infertility and adoption advocate and can be reached at her self-titled site, Wendi Kitsteiner.
Image credit: Wendi Kitsteiner