…HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!

I’m writing this as my gift to you (sorry, the golf clubs and new techie fads didn’t make the cut). I want to say ‘thank you’: thank you for 11+ years of a relationship in which I have been nurtured and cared for and loved despite and throughout it all. I’m not typically at a loss for words, but when I think back at the things you’ve seen and the things you’ve had to do for me and because of me …I just have none.

Phew…that was a quiet few seconds, wasn’t it? You’re welcome. Back to my main point…

You are the only person in the world that has seen me at my worst and most terminal, besides my mom (and since Mother’s Day is coming up, I’ll leave my thoughts about her for then). You slept in my hospital room night after night when I was pregnant waking at every sound the fetal heart monitor would make. You would massage me all the time to help me breathe. You made a spreadsheet of the times I needed to take my meds so I didn’t miss anything. You hooked up my IV meds and nutrition every single night. You were the only one who could switch out my oxygen tanks so quickly that it didn’t interfere with my breathing at all. You would lug spare oxygen tanks everywhere we went and bring the big compressor if it was a longer stay. You would crank the heat up as high as it could go (in the car or at home) because my fevers would have me freezing, even though you’d be sweating. You dealt with the insurance company and all of the financial ramifications (which was, and continues to be, a HUGE responsibility). You would literally bathe me when I didn’t have enough energy to do so myself. You would clean up my vomit and hold my hair back. You would skip out on family engagements or living a bit of your own life to take care of us at home because I was barely living. You would take time off from work and find a way to always be there when me or my son needed you to be. You sacrifice vacation time to be there for my procedures and step in for our son when I’m unable to. You hold me when I cry and tell me everything will be ok even when you don’t know if it will be. You are, hands down, the greatest baby daddy any woman could ever ask for and I can say that unequivocally (I don’t care what others think about their partners). You are always the calming force to my storm (except when I got “THE CALL”). You continue to make me laugh more than anyone else (and our friends all know that). You made and continue to make good on the principles that bind a marriage. Often, I would tell you that you should go and leave me; nobody would fault you, especially not me, because this is too big of a burden to bear for most men. I would beg you, literally on my knees, to get out and just start a new life over without me as a stressor and we would work something out for our son. He would know how much we loved him. I never wanted to hold you back. I felt (and continue to feel) incredibly guilty for having stunted your life the way I did. But you would cuss me out (because I love a good cuss word!) and tell me that maybe the lack of oxygen was making me delirious (again, always making me laugh) because this is our ‘new normal’. We are your family and you don’t quit on family. I had to choose a few but there are so many other things you’ve done and continue to do. You have seen things that no young husband should ever see. Period. It shouldn’t have happened to you but you accepted the responsibilities that came along with having married me and continue to be the strength and peace of mind that me, our son and my family needs.

Yes, people in our lives that know my situation know you’re a good provider and support system. But they don’t know what you’ve gone through, what our relationship is like and what kind of things you’ve endured. I’m here to tell the world that your influence in so many people’s lives cannot be understated.

I love you and I’m thankful for the years we’ve had together. I remember someone asking me the morning of our wedding if I was nervous at all. I didn’t even pause: “not at all. I just know”. And I did. I didn’t know how devastating our near future would get, but I knew whatever was thrown my way, I could handle and I was sure you were the man that would handle it with me. I’m more optimistic about our future now than I ever have been and I can’t give you enough credit. People around us don’t give you enough credit and I’m here to let them know that it’s not me that should be getting all the “oh, you’re so strong and inspirational” BS. It’s you. I don’t have another choice – I have to take my meds and go to my appointments and live my life the way I do now. I won’t let my son see me defeated. But you have a choice. You always have. And day after day, you continue to choose and fight for us. You continue to choose me. Thank you. I love you. Happy anniversary!

So, as far as ‘thank yous’ go, I’d say this is pretty inadequate, but it’s all I have. I’d scream it from the mountain tops so consider social media our digital mountain tops for the universe.

Love,

Your wife, your partner, the pain in your butt,

Fanoula Vlahos (honored to have your name, despite the feminist rhetoric)

xoxo

___________

That’s all for the dedication part of this blog, now on to my general audience and my recurring blog theme…

With respect to social media, I think there are 2 areas that people tend to exaggerate A LOT: how much money they have (as if that’s an indicator of what type of person you are) and the state of their relationship. Doesn’t everyone appear to have the absolute perfect relationship?! How does everyone have the key to having the most amazing marriage except me?! Something tells me they don’t though…so stop with the phoniness already!

Despite my over-the-top love letter to my husband above, I’m not trying to project that we have the concept of ‘marriage’ all worked out. Marriage isn’t all sunshine and rainbows but I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that. Some days I look at my husband and think “wow…I’m so lucky.” And other days I think “wow…he’s so lucky I don’t karate chop him in his throat while he’s sleeping.” Is that wrong?!

Here’s a bit of our backstory…

As you know, our marriage is different than most young couples (I still like considering us “young”, so never mind how old we are…) but it also began not-so-conventionally. We met in the beginning of 2006 and thanks to a legal mentor of mine, Ron, (and one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met in my professional world) we became a ‘thing’ (SHOUT OUT TO YOU, RON!). We met, spoke a few times, corresponded a few times and then we had to make a decision whether or not it was worth pursuing because it was a long distance relationship. Who wouldn’t want to date me?! Yeah, he knew he had found what he was looking for in a wife – perfection all but for that damn mutated gene.

About 5 weeks into our ‘official’ long distance relationship I confided in him that I have CF. I gave him an out. Before we decided to introduce each other to our families and actually take each other seriously, he had to know and I wanted to give him the opportunity to digest that info and make a decision. Now, I didn’t think it was a big decision for others before him because I never really considered a long term future with anyone else (so I didn’t really care how it unfolded). But he was different. I didn’t want to keep it from him too long because I didn’t want him to feel obligated to stay with me if we’d already committed years to each other. The earlier the better because it would cause less of a mess if we broke up. We’d see each other every few weeks (usually just a quick 45 min flight or a 4 hr drive) so one weekend we went out for dinner and went for a walk along the river in my hometown. We sat down and I told him and we both cried. Without hesitation he said “why would you think I would want to end things with you because of it? Do you think you’re not worth it?”   I tried to explain to him that while I was healthy now (or ‘then’…you know what I mean), things could change for me in the future and in a dramatic way. I may not be the picture perfect woman he was hoping I was. And he said “yes, you are. Having CF doesn’t dictate who you are as a woman.” And there you go. To me, those few minutes defined his character for the rest of our life together.

I’m guilty just as much as the next guy of trying to portray this fantastically perfect marriage where we’re posing and smiling and hoping to make everyone jealous (isn’t that what social media is for!?!). But we all know that’s not true all the time. Which is why I wanted you to read this letter that I penned to him today. This was an actual depiction of what happened and continues to happen in our life together. I don’t assume your marriage has endured the same hardships (and I hope it never does) but quit trying to convince everyone that you’re perfect too. It’s ok to let people know that you can’t stand each other sometimes, if not MOST of the time. It’s ok to stop giving people the impression that you’re perfect, because sweetie, you’re not. Stop with the fakeness, the phoniness of manufacturing a relationship that you think everyone else wants. Everyone wants to make others envy their perfect union and appear HAPPY but reality is bubbling under the surface. Maybe that’s not the person you’re supposed to be with, and that’s ok. Maybe it took you a bit longer to realize you needed to move on, and that’s fine too. Maybe being single is what makes you truly happy. Whatever your situation is, I can tell you, accepting your reality and not being tied to the ‘image’ you want people to see is so liberating…so liberating. Stop wasting time on keeping up the ‘image’ of a perfect relationship and instead apply that time to yourself. It’ll work wonders, I tell ya, WONDERS! Because for me, the freedom of presenting my ‘real self’ to the world has made me the happiest I’ve been in a long time. And as everyone knows, HAPPY WIFE = HAPPY LIFE!

I’ve never claimed to have the perfect marriage (God knows that’s the truth!) so I can’t speak to what the ‘secrets of success’ are and give you a roadmap to marital bliss. But what I do have is someone who is willing to fight through all the imperfections with me and loves me despite how many times he wants to staple my mouth shut (on a daily basis, I assume, if not multiple times a day). We have a lot of bumps and sometimes I question whether we’re strong enough to persevere. But just when I’ve all but given up, my husband sits beside me, hugs me, tells me the dinner I made was gross and disgusting and while I contemplate gauging his eyeball out with my nail, we just sit there, watching TV and I just…breathe.

 

He’s always carrying me, figuratively and literally…