whatever you do, don’t marry a sick man

My dad is a pianist, but one of his fingers doesn’t work. It’s the middle finger on his left hand. I guess he can’t really flip anyone off with that one now.

It’s the diabetes, of course. The same thing that paralyzed his stomach. And this is a man who takes meticulous care of himself. Who knows all the research. Who wrestles ferociously for control as his body cleverly eludes him again and again. As his body works constantly towards destroying itself. Disease is so strange. It’s like, don’t you want to stay alive, body? Isn’t that supposed to be the only thing you want? Why can’t we agree on this one?

I am beginning to prepare to lead high holidays services, the way I do every year. I take the train out to NJ to meet with the rabbi I work with, and we stand on the bima in the empty sanctuary and make our way through the fat holiday prayerbook, practicing, arguing over the details, bursting into occasional songs from Fiddler on the Roof (yes, really). We have been known to dance around. We find each other funny. We sing in harmony sometimes and we grin the whole time.

On the train, on the way to our meetings, I get this familiar urge to read old journals. The same thing happens at this time every year. The high holidays, Rosh Hashanah (our new year) and Yom Kippur (our time of repentance and renewal), are a soul-searching, gut-wrenching, emotionally complex time. And I think the approach of autumn contributes to their drama. There’s this feeling of near-death that glides up in the smell of the foliage in the park. That is hanging behind the humidity. Things will die again, there’s an end in sight, and it will happen whether or not you are ready. The summer is inevitably faster than I expected. I’m whisked through it, and everything restarts again. It’s hard to keep track of who you are in the midst of all this transition.


So I pile old journals into my backpack and I read on the train. It turns out that I have had some funny moments! And also that I am a little insufferable. And sometimes embarrassingly melodramatic. I hope that no one else ever reads my journal. I also hope that it gets published. But only a few select parts, where I am clever. The interesting thing about a journal is that you can totally tell where you are lying to yourself. You know what I mean?


Where you don’t actually like your boyfriend, but you’re still writing “He is the most wonderful person I have ever met. He got me the most beautiful roses and we had this amazing evening where he read me his latest paper and told me about his meetings he’s had with these famous professors who are big supporters of his work, and it’s really amazing how successful he is.” And you distinctly remember that you always had this tremendous itch to take a red pen with a thick tip to practically every line of every paper he’d written. And also he was so arrogant.

In my journal, over and over, I mention that my dad is not doing well, but I can’t read those entries, so I skip over them and look for more boy gossip. There’s plenty of boy gossip. It turns out that mostly, for most of my life, I have thought almost exclusively about boys and nothing else. What a relief.

Accidentally, though, my eye catches on a brief piece that is just a conversation between my mom and me.

“It’s because he’s so sick,” I am saying, trying to make something better.

“Kate,” says my mom. “Whatever you do, don’t marry a sick man.”

“I promise,” I say, “I never will.”


And then what do I do? I go out and marry a sick man. Actually, it’s even better: I marry a man with exactly the same illness as my father. And wait! There’s more! (There’s always more.) He has the same reactions, too. He also has that particular breed of diabetes that is even trickier, the kind that makes you more insulin resistant. The kind that keeps you guessing. That makes every day a wrestling match against the numbers on the tiny screen and every evening a toss up—will he be high and miserable? Or will he be OK? Please, let him be OK tonight.  Let that sore in his mouth finally heal.

I am pissed off. Why do I have to deal with this? Goddamnit, why me? I have friends with husbands who do not have to constantly remember the vial of insulin and the set of fresh syringes and the tester and the pricker and the blood strips and the little black bag every single time they leave the house. Friends whose husbands could get stuck in traffic for hours without it becoming a real emergency because there’s nothing sweet in the car and his bloodsugar is dropping.

I am whining, as I tell my dad all this, suddenly, in the car as we wait for the train after my meeting with the rabbi. I didn’t mean to whine. I am so thankful for Bear, for marrying him. I don’t lie about him to my journal but the truth is still disgustingly sappy. I didn’t mean to tell my dad that I am angry. But I hear myself saying, “I am bitter. Why do I have to deal with this?”

The other night Bear got so upset, over nothing, and he slammed the bedroom door and disappeared, and it wasn’t really because the thing was upsetting. It was because of his bloodsugar. Which reminds me of, let’s say, most of the truly bad moments in my childhood. I sat down on the couch and turned on the TV. Diabetes wins again. Well played, Type 1. Well played.

At the train station in the car, my dad says, “Who do you think the normal people are?”

And I am already saying, “I know, I know.”

His voice is gentle. “Everyone thinks there’s someone out there who has this perfect, normal life. And it doesn’t exist. Everyone has problems.” He says it again. “Everyone has problems.”

I am embarrassed. “I know,” I say, again.

And God, I’m lucky. It hit me on the train, on the way to New Jersey, reading my old journals. Here’s this girl, who has no idea what’s going to happen to her, who will one day be a writer in New York City, married to a man so weirdly well-suited to her that she feels like she’s tried to write his character before but could never make him sound smart enough, who has so much future ahead of her. So much neurotic, self-absorbed, striving, journaling, confused, eager, interesting future ahead of her.

My dad says he is teaching himself to play piano without that particular finger. He’s good enough to make it work. My dad is a brilliant pianist. He was one of those child prodigies who could play anything after hearing it once. Now he’s an adult prodigy like that.

When I met Bear and fell in love with him, I called my dad, not my mom, to talk about diabetes. My dad said, “Everyone has problems, you just know exactly what his are.”

I should have asked my mom, in retrospect. But no matter what, I would’ve married him.

So what can you do?

Remind him not to forget his blood strips in the morning. Hope the sore heals. Enjoy the TV show after he’s slammed the door. He’ll come back out again later and want to snuggle. “What are you watching?” he’ll ask. Enjoy the music your father plays so well, even without that finger. Prepare for the high holidays, and the autumn, when everything will change again and everything will continue to somehow be the same. Hopefully, we learn a little bit more every year.


*   *    *

Unroast: Today I love the way I look with a cat on me. I wear her well, I think.

My don’t apologize, you’re beautiful piece is up on HuffPost




Kate on August 16th 2012 in family, fear, marriage

38 Responses to “whatever you do, don’t marry a sick man”

  1. Krystina responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    This piece has touched me. I always wonder to myself, “Who wants to get in a serious relationship with you???” I have cancer. I am a time bomb. I may not have ten years. Yet, here I am, beginning a new relationship and he says, “Your medical issues are not going to get in our way. ” There are people out there, like you Kate, who make us “sick people” feel normal. Thank you.

  2. lik_11 responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    What I love most about this piece is your dad telling you “everyone has problems, you just know exactly what his are”. Although it’s a shitty problem- it is upfront and you knew what you were getting into when marrying him. As well, you already understood what it was like to deal with a diabetic. That’s a blessing (for him, at least!).

  3. Lisa F responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    This is beautiful, Kate. Thank you for writing it.

  4. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Type I, insulin resistant IS tricky…my oldest daughter is in the hospital at least once a year, ER visits and trips 2-3 times a year…28 years old, eats well, exercises…hate it, hate it, hate it…but, glad you listened to your father! beautiful post!

  5. Melanie responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    I have dated a diabetic, and one fella with an immuno deficiency disease. It’s hard, but it’s worth it for the right person. I like the part about how you try and just enjoy the tv program after he slams the door, knowing that he’ll want to come out and snuggle later. It’s good that you don’t take that stuff personally.

  6. Golda Poretsky, HHC responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    This is so beautiful, Kate. I relate to this post in so many ways. Thank you for writing this.

  7. Arielle responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    I love this post. When I first typed that sentence my autocorrect made it say: I live this post. And that is true too. I can relate so much to what you’ve written. My husband does not have diabetes, but he has severe chronic pain – resistent fibromyalgia and miofascial pain with chronic fatigue. And it’s a hard life – and unfair. But mostly, it’s unfair for HIM. He endures so much and I wish I could make it all better. I relate to the irritability, the extra things to remember before leaving the house, the way I never meant to choose this, but don’t regret it. Thanks for sharing your perspective and your human qualities. Makes me feel less alone and made me tear up a little. :-)

  8. Kate responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    I don’t even know how to respond to this because it’s so overwhelming, but I am so glad that you’re in this relationship. Having an illness doesn’t make someone less awesome (and sometimes it makes them more awesome), that much is pretty damn clear.

  9. Raven responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    “It’s hard to keep track of who you are in the midst of all this transition.”

    This hit me.

    The whole of the article touches me, since I’m the chronically sick person in my relationships, but especially this line about transition. Not only am I chronically sick, struggling with my writing, and feeling lost in general, my mother just passed away in April at the age of 56 and this week I found out I’m pregnant.

    I haven’t a clue where my life is going anymore. It sometimes seems too much at once. I’ve felt lost before, but never like this . . . walking a tight rope in thick woods without a net or even a glimpse of the ground below. And I’m always amazed at the people who consistently want to be around me, who share their lives with me, who love me despite all the risks and pain.

    Although you often talk about how fortunate you feel to be married to your husband, you should know, your husband is a lucky man, and I think he knows it.

  10. Stephanie responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    Kate, I also married a Type 1. This is exactly how I think, all the time. It’s hard hard hard, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

  11. Marie responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    Oh Kate. My sister and one of my closest friends are both type 1 diabetics. This piece touches me so much that I am sitting at my desk trying not to cry. I have seen the mood swings, the scary moments during low blood sugar, the cleverness of the body as it sometimes outsmarts our best efforts (both people are in incredible physical shape and take good care of themselves). One time my sisters blood sugar was 35 because she has gastroparesis and couldnt keep anything down. There is nothing to do but to keep on, remind, enjoy the moments. Exactly as you put it. In the end we are all sick, dying; some of us are there earlier or for longer than others. It is what it is.

    My mother and grandmother said pretty much the same thing to me as a kid.

  12. Quincey responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    Choosing to be with someone who is sick raises so many questions. My fiancee is HIV-positive. He told me very early on in our dating life (we’ve been together for 5+ years now), so I had an easy out right from the beginning. But the more I thought about it, processed it, and tried to make sense of what it really meant, I realized that no other man I’d meet would be without challenges, so why should I give up on this great one that is right in front of me? It meant that we could never have children, and though I already had a six-month old son, I had never questioned that I would or wouldn’t have the option to have more children in the future. No matter what, I’m certain I made the right decision to stay with my fiancée. The HIV numbers are now “undetectably low”, and we’re happy. I’m glad I didn’t let an obstacle scare me away.

  13. bethany actually responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    Kate! This is so beautifully-written. It made me tear up, especially the part about how Bear is so weirdly well-suited to you that it’s like a character you tried to write except you couldn’t make him sound smart enough, and the last paragraph.

    I just saw a card yesterday that said, “Everyone is normal…until you get to know them.”

  14. bethany actually responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    (And although it’s not really the same, I married a man who was about to start a career in the Navy. I knew when I married him that we wouldn’t have a “normal” life. There are times when I am so frustrated with living far away from family and having to move to a new place every two years and having to spend weeks and months at a time single-parenting and being the only person to take out the garbage and clean the cat box…but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Because my husband is weirdly well-suited to me in a way I dreamed but never could have imagined. All the frustration and challenges are totally, completely worth it. I get that.

  15. Allyson responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    I have lupus. It’s the same disease that took my father-in-law’s life twelve years ago, long before I met my husband. Naturally I was terrified to tell him when we were dating and beginning to get serious. I assumed I would lose him forever. But I had to. I had to explain why I was sometimes too sick to go out, why I was tired all the time, why I often shunned away from his touch, why I had a dozen doctor’s appointments in the space of a month. So I went ahead and told him, fully expecting lupus to once again take something from me, to ruin something wonderful, like it had so many things. He chose me anyway with both eyes open, despite all the uncertainty I would bring into our relationship. Five years later, and every day is a challenge. My lupus and chronic pain permeate every aspect of our lives; finances, intimacy, EVERYTHING. But just like your dad said, everyone has something. This happens to be my thing. And while I would rather it not be my thing, the challenge of it has had a way of making me examine my life and what I value. Lupus has made me better, and open to love and devotion, success and possibility. We now have a beautiful home, beautiful dogs, and each other. I feel gratitude every day for my husband’s patience and understanding, despite a still very uncertain future. Thanks again, Kate, for an honest, excellent post.

  16. katilda responded on 16 Aug 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    i love all of this, including the part about reading your old journals, because i totally did that last night! i had an ex-bf call me earlier this week and say he wants to try again, and i was so shocked that i don’t think i’ve processed yet if i think this is a good idea or not….so i went back and read old journal entries from when i first met him, and good grief, i was crazy about him. i knew i could remember the bad parts, but the good parts somehow got forgotten somewhere. i also saw clearly how dramatic i had been sometimes, and how so much of went wrong before had to do with timing. so….we’ll see how round 2 goes? it’s fascinating to start dating someone again and feel like we need to get to know each other like we’re strangers, but we already know each other really well in another way. i’m curious to know if my feelings are capable of reversing after i buried them? but maybe i don’t need to reverse those feelings….maybe i will just find new feelings entirely for this new potential relationship? we will see! (also, i wrote some stuff having to do with self-esteem this week and it made me think of you — i thought you might have some good commentary! http://www.katilda.com/2012/08/guess-what-you-can-love-yourself.html)

  17. Vicky responded on 17 Aug 2012 at 12:08 am #

    Kate, I am in love with your love story with Bear. Not just parts I, II and III, but all of it, pain included. It’s so human. I hadn’t read about the beginning of your relationship with Bear (and the dizzying, thrilling path to marriage!) cause I only started following a year or so ago, but it’s all so beautifully captured! And posts like this one today, just highlight the beauty of it in another way. I love, love, love how you open up in your writing. Every post is like a hearty slice of your view of life, womanhood, love, whatever (and I won’t reread that phrase before posting, afraid it’s too cheesy). Thanks for sharing and stay strong!

  18. Onelda responded on 17 Aug 2012 at 8:16 am #

    I had to laugh because I told my mom yesterday that I should have made my husband of 26 years fill out a form and have a health screening before I married him. I doubt it would have changed my mind. I am the anxious one, did you take your pills? Check your blood pressure! What is that on your toe? And as I have aged and gone to crap, he nags- do that and you’ll be sore tomorrow. You know that gives you migraines. Is your heart doing that thing again? I can’t imagine anyone other two people knowing and being concerned about bowels and medical conditions. We have to stay together. No one else would have us.

  19. Emmi responded on 17 Aug 2012 at 11:26 am #

    My Crohn’s manifested 3 months before my wedding. I told my husband-to-be, you can get out of this now if you want. We don’t know how this is going to go. You don’t want to be with a sick person forever. And he booped me on the nose, told me to shut the hell up, and that was the end of that. He bought a cushy toilet seat for me so I’d be comfier during flares when I spend interminable hours on the bog.

    And the funny thing is, *I’m* the one constantly feeling fear that something’ll happen to him and I’ll lose him.

  20. Kate responded on 17 Aug 2012 at 11:41 am #

    My god, that’s cute

  21. Aurora responded on 17 Aug 2012 at 11:59 am #

    You are a much, much braver and more patient person than I. Good luck, and more power to you.

  22. daphne responded on 17 Aug 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    My lovely ex-but-now-not-ex says, whenever some not-so-sexy illness strikes us, or one some (very minor) chronic thing or other pops up, “It’s just biology.” He says this with a shrug, and I realize, “It’s just biology.” It’s not who you are. It’s your biology. I have other experience with chronic illness and it’s not so easy to shrug it off, but sometimes it did help to remember, “It’s just biology.” And the person you love is still there through it.

  23. Rosanne responded on 17 Aug 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    Beautiful post, and beautiful pictures too. I look forward to the autumn, to all the transitions that come with it.

  24. Jacquelineand... responded on 19 Aug 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    This has touched me so deeply; thank you. After being married three years I was hit with severe Familial Tremour and Parkinson’s. I thought my life, and marriage, would end but my sweetheart of a Scot kept pushing me to participate in life rather than hide away. It took seven long years for the doctors to figure out what was wrong, why I had those horrible movement problems, and he kept reassuring me by saying “The movements are something you have, not who you are, and I’m not going anywhere.”

    It was a gift, to see through your eyes both the frustration and the love, thank you for sharing it.

  25. Wanderlust responded on 22 Aug 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    What a stunning piece of writing. Just gorgeous. Thank you.

  26. Brandee responded on 24 Aug 2012 at 9:46 pm #

    I’m late on this, I’m sure, but thank you for posting this. My mother has diabetes, and some days I get so frustrated with her in that she doesn’t take the condition seriously, no matter how many doctor appointments she has. Your patience, love and acceptance for your husband and father are really inspiring.

  27. christie responded on 30 Aug 2012 at 8:31 pm #

    when i was introduced to my (future) husband my friend told me “he’s cute but he has way too many problems, he has (type 1) diabetes and his mom has cancer, he’s not boyfriend material”

    i’m so glad i didn’t listen to her (i’m also glad i eventually walked away from that friendship). i was with my husband when his mom died and i was glad to be there for him during such a hard time. over our years together we’ve worked to manage his diabetes (as much as one can) and i’ve had to educate myself and learn his low blood sugar warning signs. even when i had to call an ambulance at 3 in the morning when he was so low he wasn’t responsive did i ever think “man, my friend was right!”

  28. Eat the Damn Cake » the man in the baseball cap who thinks women should be a lot more obedient responded on 01 Oct 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    [...] the Berkshires, we spent the day hiking, amazed by the beauty of the forest. Bear got a sudden very low blood sugar and I saved his life with a pop tart I’d bought on a whim from a gas station convenience store [...]

  29. Elena responded on 04 Oct 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    Made me cry.
    I think you’re upset, but it’s even worse for Bear and your father.
    Bear was lucky to marry a girl who understands his illness and it’s prepared to face it.
    I know, since my boyfriend’s mum has my same illness.
    I’ve got chronical migraines, that kind of illness nobody believes to, but I spend so many days in my bed, unable to do anything, throwing up and thinking about suicide.
    I’m so damn lucky to have him and that he understands my pain and knows how to face it.
    So is Bear… you’re such a gentle and loving girl. Keep up your wonderful marriage.

  30. Laura responded on 10 Oct 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    This really touched me. My partner (boyfriend? fiance? roommate? I never know what to call him – his father refers to me as his “lady friend”, and that makes me feel creepy and old even though I’m only 24) … anyway, that guy that I’m in a committed long-term relationship with is in a wheelchair, has cerebral palsy, and has scoliosis. Now, he is in almost constant pain. His doctors say they are surprised he hasn’t had more pain up until now, and it will likely continue or worsen for the rest of his life.

    Sometimes, I get so angry about it. Sometimes, I catch myself getting annoyed with him. I feel so ashamed, but every now and then I just want to yell at him to get over it. Can’t you just get up and walk? Or stop hurting. Just stop hurting already! It only overtakes me for a second. And then I can go and give him a hug. Maybe that makes me a horrible person, and I usually feel like I am when those thoughts cross my mind.

    My father was also diabetic. He eventually lost his sight, and his life. Sometimes I think we just have to be angry – and it’s pretty hard to be angry at a disease.

    Anyway, we’re not perfect. We’re going to have to whine about it sometimes. Thank you for sharing your story.

  31. Eat the Damn Cake » low on the hope scale, but climbing responded on 17 Oct 2012 at 4:58 am #

    [...] And I kept it, but not really. I sang in a choir once at Carnegie Hall, in college, but that didn’t count. I’d meant that I would walk across the stage to a grand piano, and then I’d sit down alone and play, like the fifteen-year-old girl I’d heard of who was already doing that and who I hated passionately for it. I am not good at keeping my vows, apparently. [...]

  32. Eat the Damn Cake » Learning to eat on Thanksgiving responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 7:41 am #

    [...] dad, a diabetic who can’t eat it himself, makes an amazing moist stuffing. He makes an amazing turkey, too. One [...]

  33. Eat the Damn Cake » it’s fair to be disappointed by how you look responded on 30 Nov 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    [...] am better at Bear being sick than I used to be. I used to just cry sometimes, when his blood sugar went really high and he’d [...]

  34. Eat the Damn Cake » the truth about morning sickness responded on 31 Jan 2013 at 9:22 am #

    [...] glucose test and have been too sick to take the second one. They gave it to me early because of all the diabetes in my family, and the news, when it came, was hesitant and bad. “You might have gestational diabetes.” And [...]

  35. m responded on 19 Feb 2013 at 11:17 am #

    I’ve been keeping this up on my screen for a while because my dad has type 1 diabetes, and I’ve recently gone on the first few tentative dates with a guy who also has it. And I really like him. And it scares me. Even though my dad controls his diabetes really well, he still has long-term problems because of it, and the thought of another person i love having those risks is terrifying. When I told my mom about this guy after our first date, she said, “you don’t want that.” But what can you do? You like/love who you do. It’s not really controllable.

  36. Carrie responded on 30 Apr 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    You marry who you want to marry, and hopefully who you should marry, who is good for you and who is good to you. In sickness and in health, right? You could marry a perfectly healthy individual and you’re not going to leave them because of a health issue that may come up. Some people may, but I don’t see you as one who would, so be happy. Be prepared and do the best you. Enjoy having that right guy in your life for all it’s worth, which is a lot!

  37. Eat the Damn Cake » what happens when you aren’t a piano prodigy responded on 19 Feb 2014 at 10:24 am #

    [...] basement instead of pursuing his music professionally, but it’s never stopped him from playing. He loves that Yamaha grand and he can sit down on its soft black leather bench and play for hours, h…. Sometimes he leans back and closes his eyes. He hums along. He has never seemed unhappy to me, for [...]

  38. ao responded on 15 Mar 2014 at 10:10 am #

    my girlfriend suffered from mercury poisoning and all the diseases related to it. I chose her….. and kept encouraging her every single day…. in the end… she left me…….. it hurt when she told me that she’s totally useless and is good for nothing and nobody….
    and also, she might never reach the age, 30
    but if only that idiot could have known health doesn’t matter in a relationship, we’d be together ever after…