WE WERE LIKE any ordinary couple. By our sixth year of marriage, we had three daughters, good steady jobs, and a nice home. On the surface, we were a loving and perfect couple. But trouble brewed beneath.
We loved each other deeply, but we also argued fiercely, often in front of our children. We sometimes pushed to each other responsibilities concerning our home and our children, and in our mistaken superiority imposed our opinions onto the other.
Our relationship was strained by criticism and curt remarks in our conversations. Despite living under one roof, we were married singles – sharing assets together, but living independently. We had fun times too, taking short holidays as a family and enjoying each other’s company.
Then, we had thought this was part and parcel of married life. We often wondered how couples could endure each other for 50 years together.
What was their secret?
In 2007, I (Evelyn) was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. I stopped work, underwent a mastectomy, and began chemotherapy. Our family had little time to react to it, but we all pulled together and made adjustments during the six months of my cancer treatment. It was a difficult time for us.
I felt ill most of the time. I lost my hair and a lot of weight. We often felt frustrated and lacked confidence in each other’s love, but one thing was certain. Through my cancer, we lived our matrimonial vows to love each other, in sickness and in health. When I completed my treatment, I returned to work and our family life slowly resumed to its previous state.
Invitation to transformation
That year, we received a coupon for a Marriage Encounter (ME) weekend. We previously thought it was for couples with marital difficulties, not for us. But this time, we felt God softly prompting us to attend, so we quickly scheduled our ME weekend for August 2008. It transformed our marriage completely.
We quickly learnt that ME was not for troubled marriages, but for making good marriages great. The weekends are run by married couples and a priest. Their testimonies guided us through various topics.
With constant dialogue and through writing love letters to each other, we overcame our issues of sexual intimacy, worked out our differing parenting styles, learnt to listen to each other with our hearts, and, more importantly, overcame our insecurities about our love for each other.
We overcame mutual feelings of resentment and unforgiveness, and rekindled our marital passion. Our decision to love was the key to working out our couple and family issues.
Our children have also benefitted from ME. We are now consistent in reinforcing each other’s opinions about their upbringing and education, because we have dialogued deeply and shared fully our feelings and thoughts.
Seeing their parents united, our children gained confidence to excel in school and form good friendships. We also dialogued with our children, and encouraged them to write their thoughts and feelings to us. We were on a new high, and we loved it! But this was only to prepare us for our next life hurdle.
In May 2009, my (Evelyn’s) cancer relapsed and I was diagnosed with stage four terminal cancer that, if left untreated, would give me only six more months of life. CT scans showed multiple tumours in both lungs – an inoperable condition. Chemotherapy offered no guarantee of remission or cure.
A million things ran though our minds. We worked on my bucket list (a to-do list before I kicked the bucket). Alan took time off from work and spent time at home with me and the children. We turned to God, made a pilgrimage to Lourdes and Rome to seek healing from Mother Mary, and to rediscover our faith. I wanted to be close to Jesus and to enter heaven when I died.
Through deep dialogue during this journey in Europe, we shared our deepest feelings about my impending death, funeral arrangements, estate planning, and legacy for our children. We frequently made the decision to love, and listened and accepted each other’s feelings.
On our return, I began my treatment using oral medication to maintain a reasonable quality of life. We managed the high cost of medication and my gradually weakening condition. After six months, the tumours continued growing relentlessly, and there seemed no hope in sight. Despite increased medication, my cough worsened.
We could have easily given up hope, but we remained faithful to God, and prayed unceasingly with our family and friends for His healing. Our troubles compounded when Alan lost his job.
A close friend advised us to seek a second opinion from another oncologist, also a Catholic. She graciously subsidised the treatment and convinced me (Evelyn) to undergo chemotherapy. We tried a few combinations of drugs before settling on a concoction.
Being a strong believer in God’s healing, our oncologist encouraged us to pray for the medication to take effect. My health slowly returned. Encouraged by my progress, Alan prayed to St. Joseph the Worker that he would be able to find work to support the family. After a year without work and facing a poor job market, Alan wasn’t sure of his prospects, but God answered his prayers and he quickly found a job.
Giving God the glory
One day, a friend told me that if I (Evelyn) were to be healed, I would be a living testimony for Jesus’ love and healing presence. That same day, ME sent us an invitation to attend Deeper Formation weekend for potential presenting couples, and we knew it was God calling us to give Him glory.
We attended two meetings in preparation for the weekend. After the first meeting, my cough suddenly lessened. Encouraged by this sign from God, we continued our formation.
On the first weekend of May 2010, we attended the ME Deeper Formation weekend. It refreshed our memory with lessons learnt from our original ME weekend. We dialogued deeply, placing Jesus as the centre of our sacramental married lives. We shared about our journey of faith, the feelings of death, Alan’s over-protectiveness, and how it affected our relationships with family and friends.
We realised that Evelyn’s cancer relapse has transformed our marriage further, and that ME values have helped us deal with difficult issues. We reflected on what has changed for us compared to our original ME weekend, what our marriage used to be, and where we were now.
We found that we were aligned in our thinking and have grown closer to each other. We have given our lives to Christ and expected nothing in returned. But God has blessed us abundantly like an overflowing river, washing us and cleaning everything anew. We discovered that we now share the same faith in God and our beliefs in forgiveness and healing.
We came away from this weekend full of hope, feeling more united than ever, and confident that we can overcome together whatever is thrown at us. We are committed to be a lighthouse, to share our story with couples who wish to experience the ME weekend, to let them know that it is not impossible to overcome the challenges they face so long as they make a decision to love.
We have already beaten the odds. Evelyn is still alive a year after her relapse, and our family lives on, the ME way.
By Alan and Evelyn Yong