Joy and Gratitude, Six Months In

It was a cold, sunny day in January, about a week after Ken's diagnosis. I was sitting in my pastor's office, in the little house adjacent to my church that the ministry team used as their headquarters. Snow was piled up outside the doors and windows, and slowly dripping from my furry winter boots onto the old carpet. I normally loved the snow, and delighted in the way it glittered in the sunlight on bright winter days. But not today.

I cried and hiccuped in my pastor's chair, telling him what had happened with my boyfriend Ken while we were visiting his parents for New Year's — how his body had slowly stopped functioning properly, how he had ended up in the hospital, and how he had been tentatively diagnosed with MS, the same disease that my mother has had all my life. In the days after Ken came home from the hospital, we tried to joke our way through painful new processes. I helped him shave and tie his shoes, and we turned it all into a joke to get through. He recovered and was well again; in theory, I had no reason to be upset. But once I came home, I collapsed. The aching grief in my chest wouldn't subside, so I found myself in my pastor's chair, begging for words to help me along.

My pastor didn't have any magic words to fix our situation. There aren't any, of course. But he gave me some advice. He told me that, when you're processing any news like this, the days are long and difficult, and it sometimes feels like you can't get through; but after a few months of living your new life, you can look back on where you were just a few days in, and see progress.

In short: it's hard, but it gets easier.

This was true for me. Though I struggled with sadness and anger in the months following Ken's diagnosis, those times were interspersed with good moments: time with friends, or learning, or being in love. The good slowly stretched out longer and longer. Laughter and color returned to my days. Ken and I spent less time in silence, and more time laughing and chatting over Skype. His body returned to normal, recovering from the relapse in due time. Our ‘post-diagnosis life' slowly turned into ‘real life' again, and to my great surprise and delight, the last semester became one of the happiest of my life.

But there was a piece of the puzzle still missing. For months, Ken had been waiting to see a specialist for a follow-up appointment in Amsterdam. When Ken's doctors told him that he most likely had MS, they mentioned to him later that it was possible he had another disease instead —one lesser-known, harder to treat, and often fatal. Though his symptoms looked most like MS, his scans more closely matched the other disease. So while on the outside, we were adjusting to the idea of a new life, I was internally preparing for the possibility of a second upheaval.

Maybe it wasn't MS. Maybe it was something scarier. Harder to live with.

The appointment was scheduled for June 9th, and I waited anxiously for it to come. When Ken came home from his appointment and told me that, yes, he officially had Relapsing-Remitting MS — not the other illness that I had been fearing — I felt relief flood my body. Joy, gratitude! Thank God, I thought. Who would have thought six months ago that “I officially have MS” would be good news?!

June 9th was, coincidentally, around the six-month mark of Ken's diagnosis. He feels normal again, with full motion in his hands, and there is little to no progress in his scans. Yes, my pastor had been right: when I look back on the months that have gone by, I see tremendous progress. I see that our lives are less touched by grief than they are by a resolute choice to move forward. And I am so grateful.

No, I'm not grateful that Ken has MS. But I'm grateful that the days have gotten easier. I'm grateful that, now that the diagnosis is official, we have a better idea of what lies ahead of us. I'm grateful that our future feels brighter than it did in January. And I'm grateful for love; the love between Ken and me, which has grown deeper since dealing with this. The love that has brought our families a little closer together since this has happened. The love that marks our lives day after day, in place of grief and fear.

The future is uncertain, and with new relapses and challenges, there will certainly be hard days ahead. But six months into this, I'm happy. We are lucky. Life is good.

Author: Sara Laughed

I'm Sara, a writer, recent grad, and American abroad. I graduated from college in December and promptly moved to the Netherlands, where I live with my boyfriend and our 11 plants. Follow along as I figure out my roaring twenties: I don't quite know what I'm doing, but that's not stopping me from writing about it!

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