love is work

When he was diagnosed, Steve Neading told his wife to leave him. 

It wasn't because he didn't love her. It was because he did and he didn't want her to suffer.

Steve and his wife Carla Rae Neading had learned that he has hepatitis C and he didn't want her to live around it.

Carla Rae said divorce was not an option.

"I said, 'That ain't happening,'" she recalled. "I married you under the vows, with God, and it was forever. Forever and ever and ever no matter what."

Steve and Carla Rae's "forever" isn't easy.
At first glance, the North Muskegon pair could be any hardworking middle-class couple. Steve is thin, his hair and mustache dotted with gray, usually clad in a pair of blue jeans with a weathered Harley-Davidson jacket. Carla Rae is pretty with a wide smile and kind eyes, her face framed by tumbling dark hair.

It's when you look a little closer that you notice the difference. It's the way Steve's shirt hangs a little too loosely and the pain in his eyes, sharpened by years of battling chronic exhaustion. It's the brilliance of Carla Rae's smile, which fills the room with its warmth, sometimes a little too brightly.

And at night, after he goes to bed, her eyes mirror Steve's in sharpness.
Sometimes Steve sleeps all day. He needs extra painkillers, which Carla Rae can't usually give him, and they argue. Money's tight. Sometimes Carla Rae cries in the shower, where Steve can't see.

"I took a lot of showers. I cried a lot at first," Carla Rae said. "But now I just deal with it. We relish the good days, we deal with the bad days, we shut the world out. We just deal with it."