Betty Duffy


Monday, May 24, 2010

The Two Shall Become One

My husband, in an attempt to burn down some high weeds in the yard, accidently set fire to his legs and hands. Midnight Saturday night, after much indecision about the emergent nature of his condition, found him on an ambulance to the Wishard burn unit in Indianapolis, where specialists removed several layers of damaged skin, and sent him home, a bit buzzed on pain killers, with a week's worth of new dressings that I will change for him.

Burns, I'm learning, are tricky, as if they are not treated, the skin will continue to burn for several days, inflicting more and deeper damage to the lower layers of skin. The greatest risk for a burn victim is infection, so the wounds have to be, not just patted clean, but scrubbed, to remove yesterday's salve and bits of dead skin. New ointment is then applied, then gauze and bandages.

Scrubbing a loved one's open wounds is not something one does casually. Reading about the apostle Thomas touching the wounds of Christ after Easter, I made a note to myself, this is significant in some way I don't yet know. It was this morning, my bare hands weeding through my husband's open tissue, I realized the fear and humility that must have instantly replaced the apostle's pride and doubt when he touched the wounds of Christ. It was indeed the body of the Lord, as Thomas's hands penetrated each layer of skin; a body, inside and out, died and risen.

My husband worked as an orderly in a nursing home when he was in college. Mostly, he lifted the heavy bodies of people who could not lift themselves, then changed their sheets, their clothes, their diapers, and cleaned their bodies. When we got married, and he told me about his experiences, it was a hopeful sort of joke to say, "Someday I might have to do that for you." If we're lucky; if we live long enough; if one of us is still strong when the other is weak.

I can think of only two times in the ten years we've been married that we've had to care for one another in some intense bodily fashion. Right after we were married, I was sick with a kind of flu that required him to clean carpets, walls, the bathroom, and bag up the clothes I'd been wearing to put in the garbage. My status as a coy young bride was instantly replaced with a vulnerability and carnality that I would have found appalling if I'd been able to predict that my marriage would take me there. As it turned out, it was good preparation for what we would later experience in the delivery room. But my husband has never been ill or injured in any way that has demanded more of me than bringing him tylenol and a glass of water.

The first time I stayed up all night with a sick baby, I had the awareness that this is what it means to be one in flesh with the beloved: I'm tired, but sleep is not my right nor my desire, rather, I want to take on myself whatever is ailing you. Whatever's clouding your head or hurting your ears, I want to feel that in your place.

In marriage, the desire to ease one another's physical pain comes naturally, but the opportunities to do so are so much more rare than the emotional opportunities. Caring for my husband's physical wounds calls to mind all the times I've scoffed when he's had his nose bent out of joint about something.

My husband doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve. He will never be the kind of person to say, "This is where and how I've been hurt." But somehow, I always know when he is, and I'm stubborn enough to want him to say it out loud: "Put your hand here."

He shouldn't need to say it, though. To be one in flesh, my desire is to take on myself whatever is ailing you, even wounds I don't have to see to believe.


Kate Wicker @ Momopoly said...

This is beautiful.

Praying for your husband's recovery and for your strength as his helpmate.

Bethany said...

Great post - - so true and very beautifully written.

mrsdarwin said...

Whoa, that sounds painful. Here's prayers for a speedy recovery for him, aided by your expert care.

We haven't had too many full-care incidents here, but several years ago I did have to drive my extremely sick husband to the after-hours care while I was in the midst of a miscarriage. Somehow, in marriage or in parenting, you find yourself just doing what needs to be done -- even the tasks that sound utterly heroic when you hear about someone else taking them on.

bearing said...

Wonderful post.

That experience of the first time sitting up all night with a sick baby is pretty astonishing, isn't it? I remember thinking to myself how amazing it was that I had no desire to do anything else, not sleep, not eat, not entrust him to my husband -- nothing but to hold him upright (it was a nasty respiratory bug) and listen to him breathe. Absolutely nothing in the world I wanted to do more. It amazed me.

Peter and Nancy said...

Marriage and parenting truly can be the antidote to selfishness, if we let it. Sounds like you are, indeed.

Tracy @Magnolia Cul-de-Sac said...

Prayers for your husband. Thanks for this reflection.

Tracy @Magnolia Cul-de-Sac said...

Prayers for your husband. Thank you for this reflection. I wish I could have been as thoughtful when my husband broke his ankle and needed me.

~beautyandjoy~ said...

I'm pretty well speechless after this one. Well said (and lived.)

Hope said...

what happened to your newest post? It plum disappeared on me while I was trying to post a comment.

BettyDuffy said...

Hope, sometimes, I plum get tired of myself and think others might share the sentiment and I take the post down.

Hope said...

OMG - I know that feeling but I wrote you the most wonderfully affirming comment (if I do say so myself) of how grateful I was for such a beautiful post. Actually I wrote that I hoped you wouldn't swear at me because I thought it was such a beautiful post and how one of the best gifts of becoming Catholic was the freedom to embrace my humanity. And your post was full of humanity and that endears you to me. If nothing else post the snippet about wondering if there is a saint for crotch grabbing offspring.
Really, if you still have it I would love a copy of it because it encouraged me at a moment when I needed to be reminded that being human is an acceptable state of being.

Lizzie said...

Can I echo Hope's comment about the post you took down...? I read it in the midst of a really tough few weeks and found it so affirming in reminding me that I'm not this dreadful, selfish mother but that I'm doing my best and it re-affirmed the need for faithfulness so I've got up early enough to pray morning prayer since I read your post and it's transformed the last couple of days (for me and my son). I have been offering up thanks for you and your blog when I reflected on how it had actually affected my actions not my just my sentiment... God bless you - your writing so blesses me and I'd love a copy too!!!

Kate Wicker @ Momopoly said...

Redemption junkie that I am, now I really want to know about the post I missed. And who wouldn't want to read a reference to the saint of crotch grabbing offspring.

Others do not share your sentiment. Keep your words out there. They bless and edify us.

Suburbanbanshee said...

Hope your husband's doing well. I burned my hand once on a stove (Boy, that's not one you want to explain to the operating room folks!) and it wasn't pleasant, but it wasn't as bad as that.

Luckily, you two have each other to lean on.

TS said...

Will offer my poor prayers for your poor husband. I've heard that burns like that are extremely painful.

Since you removed your post, I guess I can't span-the-globe with this: "It is not every mother's dream to rear a chronic crotch-grabber, but sometimes faithfulness takes you there too."

(Thank God for Bloglines, which protects against seller's remorse. Your worst posts are better than my best.)

Seraphic Spouse said...

Goodness me! That must take strength. Prayers.

Dawn by Design said...

Ah, Betty - I've been away from your blog for a bit and so am just now reading this. So sorry!