This week I’m sharing another interview with a caregiver; I’m talking with John Burris of Huntsville, AL. His wife Bev is a friend of mine. They’ve been together for 40 years.
Give me just a few basics about you personally:
I’m 57, spent pretty much all of my life in the building business in one way or another, carpenter, licensed homebuilder, construction educator, design and sales. I am easy going but love to learn and try new things and have an inclination to adventure. I have dabbled in flying, archery, martial arts, knife throwing, scuba diving, climbing and various other activities.
How did you and your partner meet?
Her version or mine? Actually the second time we met (the one we can agree on) was in high school when I asked Cindy (a friend of hers) out and she told me she had to go to the hospital to visit her friend (Bev). I offered to take Cindy; Bev was hospitalized with a back injury and in traction. As soon as I met her I was captivated! I spent the whole time talking with Bev, took Cindy home and then called Bev and talked another two hours! We have been together ever since.
Was she already sick at the time?
As I said, she was in the hospital but it was an “just” an injury.
What was your initial impression of their illness?
Didn’t think much of it at the time. It was just an “accident” and I didn’t expect it would have much impact once she was recovered. Over the next couple of years while we dated I discovered that her mother had toxemia while pregnant with Bev and her immune system was compromised. She also had always been somewhat sickly as a child. This is when I began to realize it might have some impact on our lives but still did not understand just how significant her (lack of) health issues would impact almost every aspect of our future together.
How has their illness affected your relationship?
It has both challenged and strengthened our relationship. Initially she just seemed to suffer various injuries. As time moved on there was also an increase in susceptibility to illness, tiredness and “not feeling well”. Eventually she was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia which has been her constant companion for nearly 30 years now. Being a very healthy person myself it was hard to relate to and understand what she was dealing with. There was a tendency to “blame” her for her condition. If she would just… then she would be healthier. Of course this was very hard on her. The person she most loved and who most loved her did not understand and wasn’t always supportive. I suppose that worse than having a chronic disease is having the disease and not being believed/understood.From my perspective it was very frustrating to not have the companion I expected to share the adventures of my life with. The bottom line is that there have been many fights and hurts between us over the years. If we had both continued to be locked in to our own perspectives I don’t know if the relationship would have survived.
A couple of things we both brought to the marriage was an absolute commitment to a lifetime marriage and a commitment to grow in our relationship with God and each other. As a result we were both open to learn different behaviors, work at understanding each other and let the Holy Spirit work in us to make us better people, teaching us how to love more completely. We came to acknowledge that we were on the same side and to face the health issues and challenges associated with them, together. The relationship became stronger. We learned to communicate our frustrations and fears as well as our joys and hopes. I am convinced that facing hardships is one of the greatest blessings to any marriage if the couple will allow themselves to grow and change and come to recognize that a love which has overcome hardship has a value that far exceeds it’s cost!
Have/ Did you ever considered walking away because of the illness?
There have been many times I had no idea how I would be able to become the person I needed to be in order to make the relationship work, but I have never considered leaving. We married for life, period!
What is the thing about your partner’s illness that most frustrates you?
Not being able to take away her pain and suffering.
What do you do to try to make your partner’s life easier?
I have learned to love her in HER LANGUAGE. I do what she needs done, not what I want to do for her. One of the things that helps her the most is to lie next to her and hold her when she is in pain and nothing will touch it. I think that knowing she is not alone and not judged is sometimes the best gift I can give her.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone whose partner was dealing with chronic illness?
Scripture says “greater love has no man than to lay down his life for another.” To me that means living sacrificially on a daily basis and being thankful that I have the privilege of sharing my life with such an incredible woman!
Is there anything else you want to make sure you share?
I fell in love with Bev for a reason, for the person I saw inside her. That person is still there even though she has suffered the ravages of many difficult battles in her life. I work at seeing that girl I fell in love with but I can’t do it in my own strength. It is our relationship with God that gives us the strength, the wisdom and the love to face life together forever. We both are willing to submit to His authority, let Him work change in us and mold us into one flesh.
As I said at the beginning of this interview, I have an inclination toward adventure. As Bev’s health has grown more limiting I have chosen not to do many of those things I desire because it means separating from her more than either of us would like. But I have found that there is adventure in our love and that is enough for me.