Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation
Happy 36th Anniversary to my husband, Larry. June 3, 1976, to June 3, 2012. And happy anniversary to our dear extended family and friends who struggle with us for healthcare justice. It seems like it has been an instant and forever all at the same time.
First, for my husband , it seems when we started out our lives together as a couple, no one said it would last. We both had kids from our previous marriages, and I wasn’t the sort of woman your family hoped you’d marry. I was barely 21 years old, and you were an “older” and better established gentleman of 31. We married in spite of what others thought we should do. Our love endured.
So, we began in the midst of a struggle and we have spent an awful lot of time over the past few decades trying to build a life that would prove to those who doubted that we would overcome, and we even dared to thrive for a few years. We raised six children. Each of them is a credit to the enduring human spirit and to their own resourcefulness. As we lumbered through our earlier years as a couple, the first major recession of our adult lives took a toll on our family, and within a few short years after rebuilding from that, our healthcare issues began dragging us back down the financial tubes. Our love endured.
Just six years ago as we celebrated our 30th anniversary, we were using a handheld camera to shoot some of the party and scenes from our daily lives that would end up forever recorded in Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary film, SiCKO. We were sinking in a sea of medical debt and medical worry, but with some of our children and grandchildren gathered around us, we tried to act festive. We had no idea where the film footage might ultimately end up, and we didn’t know if we’d survive to celebrate many more anniversaries together. Your heart and arteries and my cancer issues seemed destined to consume one or both of us. And if we survived our physical issues, then the health insurance and access issues that drove us to bankruptcy seemed certain to bury the chances for us to reach many more couple’s milestones. Our love endured.
Sometimes as I tried to work so hard to keep us afloat financially as your body slowly but surely prevented you from doing so, I raged against things I could not change. I shut out friends and family because I hated all the judgment that sometimes came with close relationships – I didn’t want others telling me to give up on being a writer or that it was somehow our fault for making decisions that in hindsight looked unwise. We always fought hard to maintain our own personal pride and to retain even a sliver of our personal dreams even as the healthcare system kept chewing away at our hope. And we laughed. We laughed a lot. Our love endured.
On this last journey since SiCKO was released, you have lifted me to be the one who fights in a wider world to pursue a system of healthcare justice – a progressively financed, single standard of high quality care for all under an improved and expanded Medicare for all for life model. Sometimes we have been apart for weeks at a time when one or both of us was ailing. Sometimes we have spent holidays and birthdays away from each other, and most holidays are spent away from the children and grandchildren. This is the price we have paid for being sick while insured in America. Our love endured.
Someday, Larry, I promise that these sacrifices – both planned and unanticipated – will prove to have been worth it. Couples like us who begin their lives together with joy and passion, love and admiration will not have to struggle so due to forces outside their control when just having a successful relationship of 36 years is in itself a challenge and an accomplishment. Parents like us will not become distant geographically and emotionally from their children when the effort it takes to just keep the bills paid and keep the benefits in tact consume so much energy and time. It has been such a long road. Our love endured.
When I think back to the Thursday evening we married in that beautiful church in Denver in 1976, I recall thinking and feeling that I was the luckiest woman on earth. I looked up to you and at you and saw a man I adored in so many ways. Even if someone had told me that night that we would face all that we have faced together and had given me a chance to bow out, I would have married you. It has been such an adventure. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, through thick and through thin, our love endured.
In a few weeks, we’ll celebrate SiCKO’s fifth anniversary with the incredible group of people with whom we shared the big screen as we each told our healthcare horror stories to the world. And while none of us has been able to fully recover from the trauma in our lives that made us such perfect fodder for the film, we have all endured.
And maybe, my dear Larry, the example of our love’s endurance and our fellow SiCKOs’ perseverance can somehow serve as a beacon for the struggle for healthcare justice. For whomever God has joined together, let no man put asunder – not even an insurance company CEO nor a medical provider’s bill collector nor those who protect huge, profits for corporate healthcare interests. We will endure until the battle is won.
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