Being a Loving Husband

My wife has recently been diagnosed with a disease we have never heard of before. Syrngohydromyelia. Her MRI of the brain, which was indicated after severe migraines after our son was born, showed that she has a congenital Chiari malformation which causes fluid filled cysts to develop in the space where the cerebrospinal fluid is normally located which could cause various signs and symptoms as a result of the increased pressure that could result from disease progression. We are pending a neurosurgeon consultation.

My intention here is not to ask for your medical advice. My intention is to ask you how should a man serve and love his wife in this time according to ancient Jewish wisdom? How should a man love and serve his wife when she discovers she has a life-changing disease? How can a man love and serve his wife throughout the disease progression?

Thank you,

T. K.

Dear T.K.,

The words “in sickness and in health” do not appear in the Jewish wedding ceremony, but that concept resonates with ancient Jewish wisdom. You and your wife are facing unknowns and fearful times. Most of us get married dreaming of and picturing a blissful future. However, while the diagnosis you received may be unusual, finding medical speed bumps and even cul-de-sacs in the marriage journey is not.

You ask how should a man love and serve his wife in a time of serious sickness? The general answer is in exactly the same way he loves and serves her in all other times. By providing leadership, direction, and confidence while supporting her, admiring her and appreciating her.

In your special circumstances, recognize that you and your wife need to find your own path. You two will most likely be faced with advice from doctors, friends, relatives, and people whom you have never met but have faced the same or similar diagnoses. You will be asked by medical professionals to make serious decisions. Understanding yourselves and your own tendencies will help you support your wife in how to face these often-conflicting recommendations. Do you tend to ‘go with the crowd’ or to independently research important decisions? Do you tend towards optimism or pessimism? Do you cherish privacy or appreciate talking to others about life events? If your wife has not been robbed of cognitive ability, the two of you should discuss her views on how much medical intervention she is comfortable with, her attitude towards experimental treatment, etc. You cannot know in advance the specifics of what will be offered, but if she is weak, either physically, cognitively, or emotionally, you can be prepared to be her advocate if you are clear on her wishes —which naturally will take your own views into consideration.

Absorb the reality of the fact that you are not the first couple to face difficult medical diagnoses. There are support groups and institutions that can help prepare you for what is coming. Not being blindsided at each new development is a blessing. Understanding how your wife’s personality and behavior may be expected to change will help you not take such changes personally.

If you have a church or other social family, be willing to accept support as needed and as available. Part of being a supportive husband is ensuring that you have time to do what you need to do to stay healthy, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. For example, going to the gym may be a necessity rather than a selfish activity. You must stay strong.

One of the gifts of terrible news is the reminder to appreciate each good moment. Make time for enjoyable activities. Don’t let the diagnosis occupy more brain space than absolutely necessary. Pray for a good outcome of treatment, and also pray for the strength to bear what comes your way.

We cannot speak to the specifics of this condition. We can say that you will be challenged to grow as a human being, a man, and a husband. Our prayers are with you.

With empathy,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

This Ask the Rabbi is dedicated in memory of Itzik Kozin, agę 72. Itzik was murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. He was shot and then set on fire. Itzik’s parents were Holocaust survivors who moved to Israel after the war. His father’s first wife and son were murdered by the Nazis.

And with prayers for the safe release of the remaining hostages and among them Itzik Elgarat, age 69. Itzik Elgarat was in his ‘safe’ room when Hamas terrorists shot through the door on October 7, 2023, hitting him in his hand. His phone was last traced to Gaza.

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