The first night I was home, I didn’t sleep well. I was back in my own bed, after a week in the hospital. My wife had fluffed up my side of the bed with extra pillows so I could lay on my back with my head raised, like I did in the hospital. I still had a lot of pain in my chest from the incision, and moving was difficult and painful. I had a walker positioned next to my bed, and we left the bathroom light on, so I could find my way if I had to pee during the night. Just in case I couldn’t make the journey to the toilet in time, there was a little plastic bottle on the edge of the bed, just like the one’s I’d mastered in the hospital.
I still had a great deal of pain in my chest from the bypass operation, but the pain pills I was on plus all the preparation of my wife made me feel as comfortable as possible. Despite all of this, and despite the thrill of being in my own bed again, it took me a long time to fall asleep.
I laid there on my back, and I could see my wife beside me, sound asleep, and I could feel the rising and falling of her sleeping breathing, and I became aware again that she is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. And I watched her sleep, deep and peaceful, and I started to become drowsy, but I wouldn’t let myself fall asleep. It was too perfect, the dim light from the bathroom, her face, her hair on her pillow, and I just wanted to lie there and absorb it all. More than anything, I didn’t want to fall asleep, I didn’t want to close my eyes, because I was afraid that if I did, I might not open them again.
I’ve been home now for about three weeks. I’m recovering. I go to cardio therapy three days a week, where, under the close supervision of an outstanding staff of therapists, I follow an exercise regime designed to increase my stamina and strength. I’m learning about changes I have to make to my diet and lifestyle. I’m still weak and a little sore from the surgery, but every day I’m getting stronger.
It’s been drilled into us for thousands of years, it’s a part of our DNA that the male is supposed to be the physically stronger of the sexes. We are the hunters and gatherers, we are supposed to provide for our women. And you can laugh all you want at these sexual stereotypes, at how outdated and primitive they are, but deep down, we all recognize some fundamental truth in these cliches. Men are the physically stronger of the genders, while women tend to be emotionally stronger and more sensitive.
But what happens when a man loses that strength? When he becomes weak, and when the woman needs to take care of him? It can be quite a blow to the already fragile male ego.
My wife and I have been married for almost thirty four years now. There hasn’t been a day in those thirty four years that I haven’t realized she is much stronger than I am. And that’s never bothered me. I’ve drawn strength from her strength.
The source of any strength is our capacity to love. Love is the reason we fight death, love of life, love of family, love of a partner. It’s what makes life meaningful and worth living.
They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. What makes me stronger is the fact that I love my wife, and that she loves me, too. Love is cumulative and irreversible. Once experienced, it stays forever, absorbed by the soul.
So while my muscles might be weakened and my stamina shortened, I am already stronger than I was before the surgery, thanks to the love of my wife and family and friends. So what if I can’t lift anything greater than twenty pounds, I carry this love with me every moment of every day, in every breath I take.
And it’ll be there when I open my eyes tomorrow morning, weaved into the lining of my soul and riding on the shafts of sunlight that stream through my window shade.