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“Hi.” That’s how my husband and I begin our days.

More often than not, I stay in bed for another hour or two after I wake up to allow my husband to get at least five hours sleep. He oftentimes falls asleep when most people in our time zone are stirring. Once he feels the weight of the bed change, or hears my feet brush the carpet, he lifts his sleep mask, we look at each other and smile.

From that point on, it’s just us, all day. Neither of us works right now (but that’s another post); so, we are seldom apart. This has not always been the case, though.

On our honeymoon at Couples, Negril (Jamaica), the hotel staff left a little card near the front door that said, “May you grow old together on one pillow.” Awww, I know. However, in our relationship, my husband and I have had to sleep on separate pillows for a couple of reasons. The first is that no matter how romantic the quote sounds, the one pillow idea is just impractical – for us anyway. If it’s not that he’s at the other end of the bed, he needs at least two (or three) pillows and I need one (or none).

The second reason we’ve slept on separate pillows is that we have spent more time living apart, in different countries, both while dating and married. Four months ago, even with plans to be together, we couldn’t really foresee how or when we would see each other again. Although difficult, we didn’t usually mope about it because we always had a special grace to deal with being away from each other, thanks to my carpenter friend.

This one pillow concept, though, is still important to us because it represents the time we have now been given to build a stronger marriage. Though undesirable, the circumstances under which we were brought together – my husband’s cancer – have allowed us to get to know each other in ways many couples do only after a decade or two.

Naturally, I would love to be able to write without including his cancer but I find that I can’t, no matter how hard I try because every waking moment of his life is my life and vice versa. Confronting his mortality, certain kinds of conversations are inevitable. We explore and share our deepest fears and highest hopes, perhaps no more so than when I ask, What if you die? Or he says, I don’t know if I’ll be around next year, but I really want to be…Life has made us more honest with each other and with our carpenter friend about what we think, feel and believe.

The first time he was made to sit in a wheelchair was one of the most disempowering and embarrassing experiences for him. Even after being wheeled to his hospital room, he didn’t foresee that he would become so frail, barely ambulatory, and unable to do his necessities in the bathroom on his own. Still less, that I would have to assist him. The indignity of feeling stripped of both his manhood and his personhood brought him desperately low.

I am familiar with the details of how he felt during these low points because he told me – and not when he was in good spirits, but while squeezing my hand, in whispers and in tears. I could hardly say much more than “Okay” during those times. Without question, his illness engendered a level of vulnerability and dependence in our friendship that remains and is sometimes too profound for words.

We have seen our marriage blossom despite the challenges we have faced and it is obvious to me that this growth has been at the hands of this carpenter, my friend I keep mentioning. I know my carpenter friend is actively building us up in the tedium and restlessness that comes with two young people being home all day and unable to be productive in the ‘prime’ of our lives. He’s building character and strengthening a marriage that is already a force to be reckoned with in this battle with cancer.

During the ring ceremony in our wedding, the pastor had me repeat these words, “Entreat me not to leave thee.” I don’t think he meant for us to literally spend every waking moment together, but we haven’t gotten tired of each other (and I don’t think that will change). Instead, most days are filled with ‘I love you’s’ (including gestures), and comfortable silence.

At nights, as I lay my head on his chest to fall asleep, trying to avoid his protruding chemo port, we cherish the time we have with that familiar silence, or pillow talk. We hope to grow old together as best friends and as each other’s favourite person…

And as we say “Night hon” and turn over, deep down we know we will.

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