Thirty years ago, I stood next to the young man I met in college and promised to love him no matter what.

In sickness and in health. Until death do us part.

It was an easy vow to make at the time. We were young and naive – and believed we were invincible.

Life has taught us otherwise.

When MS came knocking on our door, it was shocking. It disrupted our relationship and the dynamic in our home – like an unwelcome guest, with a lot of baggage. It affected my ability to work and to contribute to the family purse, creating a lopsided partnership.

He was now the provider. And I was the dependent. In my mind, a financial burden.

He never once complained about bearing that load – or made me feel bad for not contributing. I just didn’t feel like I was pulling my weight. And I worried about the future.

Would I become even more dependent on him – for personal care, as well as money?

But recent events have tempered that fear and changed my perspective. In the blink of an eye, my husband was suddenly unwell, and I was thrust into the role of caregiver. After three bowel surgeries – and nearly losing his life – he was dependent on me, for just about everything. Meals. Personal care. Household chores. Transportation to appointments.

The shoe was on the other foot, and he didn’t like it much.

“I feel like such a burden,” he said, one day. And that stopped me in my tracks. How could he possibly feel that way? I was just giving back.

It wasn’t his fault that he was sick, after all. And nor, I thought, was my own illness mine.

A moment of sudden clarity, in a difficult time.

So what did I learn from this experience?

That life can turn on a dime. It’s messy and unpredictable – for EVERYONE, not just for those of us who live with chronic illness. There are no guarantees. And we will ALL be vulnerable – and in need of help – for some reason, at some point in our lives.

And that doesn’t make us a burden. Just someone in need of more love and attention – who would happily return the favor, when the tables are turned.

In the context of a marriage, it’s the fulfillment of a promise. And even though we may not have understood the full import of our words when we said them, we meant what we said.

I will always be there for him. And he will always be there for me.

Until death do us part.