By Leah Herzing
Dan and I will have a little impromptu wedding vow renewal ceremony this Valentine’s Day. Throughout our marriage, I expected to have a ceremony like this later in our lives—perhaps for our 20th anniversary. However his diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer five months ago changed everything. At this point, there are no more distant dreams of the decades ahead. We live in the moment.
Dan’s brother, Doug, and my sister, Rachel, will travel to Oregon from Illinois to be our best man and maid of honor. Our three year old son, Raine, will be our ring bearer, and has a bow tie for the occasion. I found a little white dress and Dan will wear an extra layer to stay warm. There is a delicious cake, carefully baked by a friend to comfort his taste buds thwarted by chemotherapy. He is in the middle of his fifth infusion and is overwhelmed with fatigue and weakness. Should he need to sit during our ceremony, we will have chairs. If he can’t dance during our song, we will just sit and hold hands and look in each other’s eyes.
We will recite our very same vows that we wrote to one another ten years ago. In 2004, we stood outside in an orchard in Metamora, Illinois, and quite nervously spoke in front of our 200+ wedding guests. The devotion and tenderness that Dan felt for me was so eloquently evident in his vows that many were brought to tears–including more than a few rather stoic men.
I was twenty-two when Dan met me—young and wistful. A year later at our wedding, I felt redeemed to have suffered heartbreaks, traumas, health struggles and hardships, and made it through my personal veil of darkness to an opening of comfort –a clearing in a forest that was a single, quiet confidence in my heart. I had found Dan, whom I loved, and I could commit to him all of my deepest esteem and everlasting faith. Of course I knew that life’s surprises awaited us, but what could we not conquer together? With Dan, my kindred spirit, what storm could not be weathered?
A storm of incurable disease is not something I expected. And I certainly didn’t expect it to strike him—my strong, resilient, healthy, and young husband, in a mere decade. Dan was only 37 years old when we were given his diagnosis. Please note, I choose the word “given” carefully because this is how I choose to weather this storm. Of the many gifts our marriage has received, a cancer diagnosis is surely the most unusual. However, it is valid. Dan didn’t die the moment that they discovered his tumors. We didn’t die the moment we heard his diagnosis.
There is time yet to love. And that is a gift.