To have and to hold

erin and jay strybis
credit: Chris Ocken
And you have a person in your life whose hand
  you like to hold?
  “Yes, I do.”
It must surely, then, be very happy down there
  in your heart
  “Yes,” I said. “It is.” 
—Mary Oliver  

My husband Jay and I celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary on October 13. If you count dating, which I certainly do, we’ve been together over a dozen years. At first, after we married, it didn’t seem much different than dating. For six years we’d been serious about our love, on our wedding day we said vows to prove it. Marriage didn’t change much for us, at least not in that first year.

Our life circumstances have shifted significantly since 2012, the year we became husband and wife. After years of city living with minimal responsibility, we have a car loan, a dog, a mortgage and a baby (procured in that order). We officially crossed into the realm of “adulting,” and have oodles of paperwork to prove it. In recent years, we’ve taken to commiserating with one another, stating the obvious, “Being an adult is HARD!”  The hard stuff feels a little easier when you name it.

To that point: Hands down the past year has been the hardest year yet of our marriage. I thought this on our fifth wedding anniversary, the year our son was born, not knowing the challenges we’d encounter leading up to this anniversary. As new parents, we fought over diaper changes, the dishwasher and even dog food. We battled sleep deprivation and took turns caring for our son Jack when he got sick. There were many joyful moments too, like witnessing Jack’s first smile and his first shaky steps. Also figuring out how to date each other again (pro tip: finding a trustworthy babysitter helps). We were shocked by how hard parenting was, but at least we were doing it together.

This past year, however, showed me the meaning behind our vows, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health . . .” We faced the greatest obstacle of our life together when my husband got sick. This summer we lived in sickness, for worse and for poorer. We didn’t always live gracefully–in fact, I definitely didn’t live gracefully. Most of the time, I felt terrified and tired. I became intimate friends with anger, anxiety, fear and heartache. A lot of the time, I was parenting alone.

In the middle of the summer, I went on a five-day work trip to Houston, a brief escape from hardship. The trip couldn’t have happened at a more horrible time. Not only was Jay having a difficult health week, but our son managed to catch the dreaded hand, foot and mouth virus two nights before my flight out. Luckily, I’d arranged for my in-laws to visit and care for Jack. Low on sleep, I kissed my family goodbye and headed to the airport, feeling a mix of deep relief and nagging guilt. Ultimately the work trip was fun, and sleeping in my own bed for days, with no snoring or cries or worries to wake me, was heaven.

The last morning of my trip, I looked at myself in the mirror and struggled to hold back tears: I envied my former single self and all my single friends. I wanted to turn back time or fly home to a different life. I wanted to be free. I touched my face, then noticed my ring. My heart ached for my family too.

When I came home, I could barely contain my joy when I hugged and kissed my son and husband for the first time. Later on, snuggling my husband and our dog while they snored along in our cozy bed, I struggled to imagine my life without Jay. I’d spent much of the summer going over what-if scenarios regarding Jay’s health, pushing myself to be a caretaker, primary parent and provider even though it felt like I was barely holding on myself.

Holding my sweet husband that evening, I realized I didn’t have to. I could choose to thank God for each day we have together, rather than worry about the future. This outlook sustained me through the rest of the summer–and continues to be a guiding force in my life today.

to have and to hold
credit: Mona Luan

Six years ago, on a rainy October day, Jay donned a slate gray tux and I wore cream-colored lace dress as we stood in our alma mater’s chapel and recited our wedding vows. We were–and are–surrounded by a crowd of witnesses who support our union.

That moment in the chapel is where marriage diverges from dating. As one year leads to the next, and life circumstances shift, living vows is not for the faint of heart. Here’s what I know: My husband and I faced great adversity in this past year of marriage and we are stronger for it. And now, as we enter into our next year of marriage, we’ll continue facing lows and highs.

I’m just glad we still get to do it together.

Husband of mine, I’m grateful for everything you do and are. I’m deeply grateful for your presence. Happy Anniversary, my love.

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