Will Illness Change a Relationship? Yes — and No

Lea Wait, here. On February 1 of last year I wrote on this site about the stroke my husband, Bob Thomas, had suffered the week before. I didn’t mention that we’d also just found out he had other medical issues: congestive heart failure and COPD/Emphysema. And — oh, yes — peripheral artery disease and severe anemia.

Bob Thomas, Lea’s husband

A number of people have asked me recently, “How is Bob? How are you both doing?” Here’s our answer.

2016 was a rocky year. Not for our relationship – that might even have strengthened – but for understanding Bob’s physical challenges and knowing what could be improved, what couldn’t, and accepting both.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say some tears, anger and depression were involved. For both of us.

Now, almost exactly 18 months later, Bob’s doing well. Yes, he now uses the stairlift and ramps in our house, and wears clothes that are easier to manage than those he used to wear. Yes, he tires easily. But he hasn’t been hospitalized since last September, and that was just for blood transfusions and infusions of magnesium to counteract the anemia. Minor hospitalizations.

But our lives have changed. For example, Bob used to do most of the errands at our house, since he likes to get “out in the world,” while I’d rather be a stay-at-home introvert. On good days (like the day I’m writing this!) he still does those things.

One of Bob’s Paintings

But on other days, I’m the one who’s out doing errands. That’s hard for both of us. I don’t do as much writing, and Bob feels constrained. But we agree he needs to save his strength for activities he values most — painting, and cheering the Celtics  on from our living room.

He has a major exhibition at the Southport Library in Maine this month and next, and has other paintings on display at the Stable Gallery in Damariscotta. His work is becoming even more sophisticated and layered. On rough days he worries about how long he’ll have the strength to paint, and whether he can improve further.

Bob takes about thirty pills twice a day to keep his illnesses at bay. The most challenging and troublesome now is his stage 3 COPD, for which he uses a nebulizer every 3-4 hours, around the clock, in addition to 2 other inhalers. At some point, perhaps not too far off, he’ll need to use oxygen.

Because of his breathing problems, Bob and I have not shared a bedroom for six months. Neither of us like that, but it’s healthier for both of us. We both need sleep, but our sleep is often on different schedules. And if Bob got a cold, he could end up in the hospital. I keep any germs I’ve acquired down the hall.  I’m not far away if I’m needed. Which I am sometimes, for various reasons.

Another of his paintings

Bob and I still see friends and attend art openings and author talks, although we don’t stay as long as we used to. We try to keep calm (not easy these days, for an assortment of reasons!) Anger and stress make COPD worse. Will it get better? No. But maybe we can delay its progress a little.

People have asked me how I’m coping. Physically, I’m fine. Emotionally, like Bob, I have good and bad days. I sometimes feel guilty for taking time away from him to write, but I have deadlines, and we have bills. I’m limiting my appearances, and only doing two or three events this year that require me to be away from home overnight.

The road we live on, turning, but continuing on

We are both trying to focus on today, not on yesterday or tomorrow, and on the time we have together.

So, in answer to the question at the top of this post:  yes, our daily lives have changed since Bob was diagnosed with what he often jokingly refers to as his “three fatal illnesses”. But, no, nothing has changed. We still love each other, want the best for each other, and try to manage our lives so we have time to continue what we love: painting, writing, and being together.

For now, we’re planning to enjoy warm weather and sitting on our porch and talking with friends and celebrating our life together.

Illness doesn’t change love.

Note:  Bob read this and encouraged me to post it.

About Lea Wait

I write mysteries - the Mainely Needlepoint, Shadows Antique Print and, coming in June of 2018, the Maine Murder mysteries (under the name Cornelia Kidd.) When I was single I was an adoption advocate and adopted my four daughters. Now my mysteries and novels for young people are about people searching for love, acceptance, and a place to call home. My website is http://www.leawait.com To be on my mailing list, send me a note at leawait@roadrunner.com
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46 Responses to Will Illness Change a Relationship? Yes — and No

  1. Reine says:

    Lea, I’m so glad you posted this. It mirrors our current experience. I find your point of view and attitude helpful especially where you talk about the difficult parts. I believe you will understand when I say that it’s a relief to know that our changes and adjustments are not different from those of others. I’ve been feeling so guilty. Thank you for posting this, your experience, here. R.

  2. Lea Wait says:

    Thank YOU for your comment. It’s good to know we’re not alone. Peace!

  3. Barb Goffman says:

    Blessings to you both, Lea.

  4. Sally A. Peckham says:

    That’s so wonderful that you haven’t let these illnesses come between you. So many times, illnesses drive such a wedge between loved ones. You and Bob’s love are an inspiration. God Bless you both! 🙂

  5. Judy Holt says:

    Dear Lea,
    My husband died 18 months ago after 9 years of cancer, including treatment. I asked you to be a facebook friend after I read your book about Winslow Homer. The book spurred us to go to the exhibit in Portland and to walk the cliff walk past the studio. You were therefore part of the adventures we were able to have. My warmest wishes to you both. All I can say is, love does not die with death,

  6. Thanks, Lea. A hard road for both of you, day to day. You have the right attitude for this long journey. Wishing you both resilience, endurance and strength – and as many moments of pleasure as you can enjoy together and individually. Be gentle with yourselves. Best wishes.

  7. Felicia says:

    Lea – your candor in explaining your separate and combined challenges, the frustrations they bring with them, and the strength you and Bob are drawing from them is heartwarming and inspirational. Thank you for so eloquently sharing a most difficult and personal subject. You’ve had an extraordinary year and I truly hope you both get that quiet time on your porch this summer.

  8. Mary Fairchild says:

    You two are an inspiration and I feel very privileged to have found you. I hope that the two of you get to share each other for many years to come and I’m very glad that you have each other. A relationship that strong is rather rare. The best to you both and gentle hugs all around.

  9. Lisa Beecher says:

    Lea, I’m sorry you and Bob are going through this. Thank you for sharing your’s and Bob’s personal experiences, and for trusting us with them. Health changes are some of the most difficult of challenges, with so many adjustments and losses one must make peace with. You and Bob have done and will continue to do that. You teach us that it can be done, and we are grateful.

  10. Edith Maxwell says:

    Thank you for being so honest, Lea. I wish you and Bob all the best, and it truly sounds like you are taking care of yourselves in the best possible way. Also sending hugs (saw your facebook post about him being in for tests – boo).

  11. Liz Flaherty says:

    Thank you both for this. I’m glad you’re both doing well.

  12. Lea Wait says:

    Thank you to everyone! Ironically, Bob became ill late last night and we spent the night in the emergency room of a local hospital. With all his other issues — would you believe he now has appendicitis? He’s on my his way to Maine Medical in Portland for surgery … I’ll be following him as soon as I post this, get something to eat, and pick up some things at home he wants. Never a dull day!

  13. Andrea Bodo says:

    Last night, I brought my Steve home from the hospital. He was rushed there the night before with an episode of crushing chest pan and diaphoresis at 2am the night before…I found myself running all possible scenarios through my mind during that time, and making contracts with God as I sat waiting in the ER, the hospital room, etc… Steve and I have been through alot of issues as well…..I had sepsis from a MOHS procedure, multiple cardiac arrhythmias, a fractured femur etc…. and you wonder how these things might change a relationship. For Steve and me, we are strong people and get each other through this stuff, and our love grows deeper…… we just become more grateful for the good times in between. Wishing you and Bob strength through this current “blip”

    • Mary Anne Sullivan says:

      I don’t know you, Andrea, but you are sure having a rough time. I hope things settle down so you’re back to enjoying the pleasant things you can share together. Take care & I hope things soon are much better.

  14. Gram says:

    Sending good thoughts your way. Big hugs too.

  15. C. Michele Dorsey says:

    You and Bob epitomize my belief that above all, marriage is an enduring friendship. Wishing you continued stamina and good spirits and that the appendicitis is just a bump on your way to a summer filled with writing and painting.

  16. Dear Lea and Bob,
    I know and enjoy Bob’s art at Stable Gallery and elsewhere, but was unaware of Bob’s stroke until now as I read this post about the multiple health challenges you have faced together – with such bravery, determination, and focus. I can relate well in that I had a stroke while I was driving near Wiscasset mid August 2016 and then subsequently totaled my car and broke multiple bones, including my neck, sternum, and right wrist (my painting hand!). After five and a half weeks in the hospital, fusion surgery on my neck, and intensive rehabilitation, I came home in late September. Now, in late May, I am painting almost daily. I will be able to drive again in mid-July. It’s been a long journey but the loving help of my husband Steve, and friends, have steadied and encouraged me. My stamina is lower but my gratitude and determination are high! Thank you for sharing your loving story.

  17. Cheers to you and Bob, Lea. May the sun shine on you and the wind be always at your back.

  18. Julianne says:

    My message to you both is to keep doing what you’re doing. Bob, paint, paint, paint. You have a remarkable talent. It gives you joy, and it gives us joy. When my dad had to finally go on oxygen, he considered it an anchor of his illness. He couldn’t just accept it as another type of treatment. Please do not do this. Stay the course, and do what you love to do. Lea, you will take on more duties that will eat into your work time. You’ll find a way around this. The two of you are resilient and capable and still in love and this will carry you through.

  19. Triss Stein says:

    Thank you for posting such an honest and heart-felt essay, and best wishes as life continues to unfold for both of you.

  20. Lea and Bob,

    You both are so strong and brave in this difficult time. I’ve been aware of Bob’s health challenges but not their full extent. I send all good wishes that you continue to find your way through them (including the appendectomy today) with the same grace and calm you have managed so far. Please be in touch if there is anything I can do. Really.

  21. Amy M. Reade says:

    I believe this comes on the day when I’ve read that Bob has appendicitis. Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with both of you and that I find your strength inspiring. Best wishes to both of you.

  22. Mary Anne Sullivan says:

    Oh, Lea, what a brave post and now this unexpected surgery. I am so sorry. You must be so scared of how this will affect his other issues. I guess it’s one day at a time for this week and hopefully things will settle back to a routine in your “new normal.” If a staff member at the hospital offers to bring you something, be sure to accept. Take very good care of yourselves. Prayers are being sent up.

  23. Hello Lea & Bob,

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us. Sending you strength and love.

    Katy Allgeyer
    Stonington, ME

  24. Susan Antoniello McGovern says:

    LEA, My thoughts and prayers are with you. I just read your post. I’m sorry to hear that Bob’s health is as serious as it is. You are correct though when you have ❤️ you have enough as long as you have faith. It’s obvious that you and Bob have both. You are a strong woman, and Bob will get through this. There are a lot of people praying for him.
    It’s a lifetime ago since our days at the CERC, but I have to tell you that I will always remember your kindness, how much I learned from your example by your honesty, and willingness too share. You have changed to become a better person, and writer. Best of all Bob’s wife! I will be keeping the both of you in my thoughts and prayers! Susan

  25. Eileen Robertson Hamer says:

    Thanks for this. So many of us over seventy face severe problems and feel alone. Your story, full of grace and strength, lifts our hearts. And the art historian in me reminds me to say how gorgeous those paintings are. Please keep painting–we need all the beauty we can find.

  26. C.T. Collier says:

    Heartwarming to hear about your loving commitment and your day-at-a-time lifestyle. Many thanks (to you and Bob!) for posting this. –kate

  27. Ellen Byron says:

    What a beautiful post, Lea. Sending love and caring to you and your husband.

  28. stephanie says:

    Marriage is so much about sharing the ups and downs. It is hard but makes life easier too. To know there is always someone who cares is really helpful.

    My father was a type 1 diabetic before there were today’s insulin pens and pumps. It was known the toll on his organs or his brittleness would eventually take his life. And it, and poor medical advice, eventually did. But, my folks lived in fear of the outcome of each day.

    My dear friend has CF and is in his 60s. Until he was 45 they gave him a year to live, each year. His prognoses each year helped him strive to live fully and as actively as possible. He works out more than I do.

    My point is that even the negative can have positive results when approached with a positive attitude like yours.

  29. Very, very moving! Best to you and Bob.

  30. Suzanne Hurst says:

    Lea, what a beautiful bittersweet article! I applaud your courage – both of you. My significant other and I do not handle his health issues nearly so well. It does change relationships, for sure, and it is hard not to be angry and depressed over that. I think that the thing you two have going for you is the strength of your love; it seems to be able to overcome all the obstacles. I admire you!

  31. Lea, thank you for sharing this. I’m not as open as you are about such things, so I’ll only say that a year after I retired my husband was hospitalized with congestive heart failure. It was a wake-up call, and now my life revolves around maintaining his health. When I’m feeling the waves of anger or sadness, I think how fortunate I am to have had someone who loved me all these years. You and Bob had been fortunate to have each other. I hope you’ve gained strength from writing your essay and hearing from your friends.

  32. Clea Simon says:

    This is one of the most beautiful tributes to long-term love that I’ve read. Jon and I have had some peaks at the road ahead, and I only hope we navigate it with your grace. I’m so glad you have each other, and I hope you do for a very long time. Thank you for posting this, Lea.

  33. Ruth Nixon says:

    Dear Lea and Bob, As always I enjoy another chapter in your love story and it was good to read how you were managing.Hope this newest blip ends with Bob soon home. Stay strong , so many people caring.

  34. Dru says:

    oh Lea, I’m crying as I read this. I’m glad you both have the strength to soldier on and live each day as a day to enjoy and love one another.

    Thank you for sharing. Hugs!

  35. Dearest Lea and Bob:
    What trauma you two have been through. We have many friends here in North Lake Tahoe who have some of the same health issues as well as Alzheimers. Not fun. And strangely enough, like you 2, it’s usually the husband who has the most problems, leaving the wives to be caretakers. But having a strong marriage is a plus, and adds to the safety net. That makes a background cushion of love that hovers in the air around you both and supports both of you, whether you realize it’s there or not. My love and healing thoughts go to you both. Who knew what we’d be going through after our days in New Jersey. Sherie

  36. Thanks for sharing that Lea! True love is about growing and gaining strength from each other no matter the challenges, and the two of you are a great example.

  37. Ev Bedard says:

    You & Bob are showing all of us what marriage is all about…know that I am praying for both of you…sending good vibes to both of you in Maine from Saratoga Springs, NY…

  38. Susan says:

    Like several others I understand what you are going through because my husband has had a number of issues not the least of which are severe Sleep Apnea, insulin resistant Type 2 Diabetes, Stage 4 Kidney Disease and PAS. In addition, I just had a health scare. All any of us can do is take it one day at a time. Like you we keep plodding along relying on each other to pick up the slack and trying to find joy in the good days while not letting the bad ones pull us under. We are very fortunate that our four children are there for us and try to do what they can to help despite their busy lives. At the very least they make me laugh and as long as I can keep my sense of humor, I’m doing ok. Prayers are with you both and I hope that his latest issue with the appendicitis is only a minor set back.

  39. Laurie says:

    Real life continues as we write fiction…. thank you for sharing your heart and for modeling strength and courage. Blessings to you as you head to Portland for appendicitis–thinking of you both.

  40. Peg Reeves says:

    Life is certainly a journey a bit bumpy at times but you keep moving on down that road. So many of us have serious health issues. It does help to share them and get good wishes and prayers. I enjoy your books and wish you both well.

  41. Cheryl says:

    Thank you for posting this honest assessment. I don’t know you personally, but your individualized and loving response to your husband’s illness has been a support to me. Best wishes to both of you.

  42. Gail Wood says:

    Thank you for posting this. It’s similar to the situation that my husband and I are going through. I often feel very guilty about a number of things as well as other emotions in the “shouldn’t” category. An acquaintance who lost her husband to cancer for whom she was the caregiver as well as raising a daughter told me that I was entitled to those emotions and it wasn’t bad to feel them. I think what saves it all is the nuances of love as it changes and deepens.
    Thank you. I hope it helps to post it and get encouragement back (Go Lea! Go Bob!) as much as it helped me to read it. Best wishes

  43. Kate Sullivan says:

    Truly inspirational and moving. Blessings to you and Bob.

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