Like swimming against the current, chronic pain forces our bodies and minds to endure far more suffering than what is natural. That goes for our caregivers as well.
Recently, my 82-year-old mother was hospitalized for a number of weeks with a serious illness – and for the first time other than in childbirth she experienced excruciating pain. Fortunately it was relatively short-lived and she’s now well on the mend.
During her bout with pain, I could relate to Mom in ways I’ve not been able in the past. We talked about the side effects of different opioids and muscle relaxants, sleep disturbances, re-learning how to walk and the importance of not losing too much weight as we’re both slender.
Four years ago, John’s now 93-year-old father became the full-time caregiver to his ailing wife. After a bad fall, Betty became mostly bedbound from a fractured back. Jack’s life turned upside down, and for the first time, this gentle man was angry, even bitter.
During the two years before Betty passed, John had lengthy conversations with his dad teaching him the in’s and out’s of caregiving. Jack even read “Battle for Grace” to gain wisdom and insight. I marveled at the sweetness of the exchanges while son mentored father through this challenging time. But it wasn’t enough and we became fearful we would lose exhausted, over-whelmed Jack.
Finally Jack hired a part-time care provider to lighten his load – and since Betty’s passing, he’s regained his good health and nature, even taking trips he’s put off for years.
While I’m relieved and over-joyed that my mom and John’s father are out of the woods of tribulation and suffering, their experiences got me reflecting. They’re both elderly and their challenges were relatively short – challenges that were expected, “normal.” They also had “normal” social support systems of family and friends in place to lend a hand and comfort.
In short, their hardships fell into the natural order of things.
But for most of us with chronic pain, we lost everything “normal” after we didn’t get well or die. Our bodies have weathered years (for me 32 and counting) of physical trauma, unending auto-immune wars causing the wear and tear of fatigue and inflammation. We’re living and aging unnaturally.
Adding to this abnormal state, our support systems are long gone and most of us were too ill to have our own families. We’re isolated, anxiety-ridden and stressed. Long-term depression is the norm for women (and men!) in pain.
And for those rare and precious souls who chose to stay as our partners and caregivers, their road is as heart breaking and wearing. They’ve lost their dreams. They’re on call 24/7 and have to endure the Herculean feat of watching their loved one suffer endlessly. And because caregivers are abandoned too, they often have no one in their corner.
For people with pain and their caregivers, it would be natural to assume what they have to take on day-to-day is beyond the realm of human endurance.
But here we are, swimming against the current of “normal.” Lately, I feel a wonder, an awe, at what our bodies and minds continue to survive.
Against all odds, we choose life, we choose to cope, we choose to adapt. We face our “unnaturalness” with strength, fortitude and courage.
Gentle hugs ((*_*))