Do people with chronic illness, loss of the precious, or injustice in their lives get a break elsewhere?
We all face good times and bad times in life. Some have chronic problems, others have temporary, albeit serious, challenges. It’s hard to view the latter as temporary, however, when the consequences can stay with you for years, decades, a lifetime.
Life isn’t always fair, and you may be faced with more dark times than others around you. The balance, as I see it, is in part how those times change you and make you a better person.
Yes, I’ll say it, the people who have been refined by fire are better people. More compassionate, more accepting, wiser and perhaps, if they’re lucky, more content, regardless of circumstances.
But in the middle of the storm, it can be difficult to face the day when you know it will be a challenge. The choice to escape, in whatever way is available to you, becomes an overwhelming temptation.
Those escapes sometimes bring their own problems. Watching television instead of taking action might drag out the time you will be facing difficulties. Drugs or alcohol, well, I don’t have to detail what they can do to you, robbing you of everything you hold dear.
Motivation becomes its own challenge. The chipper platitudes don’t always work when times are tough. It takes experience to know there will be an end to the loneliness, fear and sadness. For me, the quotes that acknowledge my pain, yet hint (at the very least) at hope are the most meaningful.
It’s darkest before dawn.
Maybe it looks like you got more than your fair share of bad times. I can’t promise there will be enough good times to offset those days, but I do believe there are better things ahead.
We are told “life is good,” “make lemonade” and “don’t worry–be happy,” but sometimes we have to acknowledge a sorrowful time in life. If you don’t do so, you likely are compounding the problem.
But once you do, you are free to do two things: address the pain, and truly believe the sun will rise.
It may rise slowly, but one day you will look up and there it will be, high in the sky.
Last year on this day, at about this time, I got a text from my friend Laurie letting me know her brother, Monte, had died. We’d been expecting this news; he’d been battling cancer for several years. His treatment had been compromised in the beginning because he developed an infection after surgery, and eventually, it was evident he was going to lose the fight.
I’ve detailed Laurie’s story before, so I won’t go into it here, except to say, a few months before her brother died, her mother had passed away. I imagine yesterday, so close to the anniversary of Monte’s death and only the second Mother’s Day since losing her mom, might have been emotional.
Several of my friends lost their moms last year, and my heart goes out to all of them as they face the day with a sense of sorrow and longing. At least one woman had a challenging relationship with her mother, which brings with it a different, yet equally difficult, set of emotions.
My mom is still with me, and I’m grateful for every day. My dad, my brother and my sister are all still alive and healthy, and I know I’m lucky for that blessing as well.
To those who faced the loss of anyone you loved in the past year (and I include beloved pets, because their loss brings its own pain), may you find peace.
Today at work the owner’s dog, Thelma Lou, wasn’t there to greet me in her usual overly-exuberant manner. We’d known there had been problems. They’d been going on for days, but weren’t clearly identifiable symptoms.
It started when she began running away from me and my colleagues instead of bowling us over with affection. She was fearful and timid, and we puzzled over the change in her demeanor. Perhaps one of us had scared her inadvertently? Or had something frightening happened on one of those days when she ran away while being walked? (Her mom agonized over those escapades, but her dad was pretty nonchalant about them, much to the chagrin of the entire staff.)
Then, yesterday, she refused her treats after her morning walk. She was lethargic and clingy, and we all knew something was wrong. Her dad took her to the vet, who diagnosed a pulled muscle or tendon in the right hind leg. When she came back, she was clearly better. We were relieved.
But overnight she lost movement in her hindquarters. Paralyzed in her hips and back legs, she struggled to move and understand what was happening to her. After a race back to the vet, a more experienced doctor determined she had a slipped disc. Emergency surgery was required, but he wasn’t qualified to do it. The best “pup surgeon” for the job was an hour and a half away. So Thelma Lou was loaded in the Jeep, and rushed down the Interstate to helping hands.
I got a call a few hours after I left work that her prognosis was surprisingly good. The veterinary surgeon, who wouldn’t operate unless there was reasonable hope, estimated she had a 70 percent chance of full recovery. The fact that they were able to get her in for surgery within 24 hours of becoming paralyzed was critical to the success of his work.
So now we wait, and her mom and dad have their work cut out for them. But it’s a labor of love, and they don’t mind doing it.
Thelma Lou came into her dad’s life when she was a puppy and he was severely suffering from the effects of PTSD, a result of his time as a Marine photographer in Vietnam. He’d left his wife and was living in a storefront in a nearby town, struggling day to day to survive his nightmares and the cumulative effects of the trauma. He had this energetic, simple soul to keep him company and give him love. Yes, his wife was always there for him, but he was suffering in a world he couldn’t escape and hadn’t yet gotten help to deal with properly. So Thelma Lou was his salvation.
I understand that bond. Twenty years ago I was alone and living in Nashville, dealing with the memories of sexual abuse. The pain at times was so overwhelming I wanted to die, just to escape it. I wasn’t suicidal in that I didn’t truly want death, I simply wanted to escape the burden that was weighing me down, physically, emotionally, spiritually.
Enter Paco. He’d had his own share of pain in his short life, having been abandoned three times that I know of by the time I took him in. He came with troubles, some of which never went away, although I learned how to manage them. He bit everyone. He wanted love, but would become overwhelmed when he received it.
We quickly became dependent on each other. When I came home from work, he was at the window, waiting for me. He’d turn and run to the door, and when I opened it, he’d dash outside and run upstairs, where he’d be trapped, so to speak. He couldn’t get past me once he was up there, and he didn’t try. Instead I would pick him up and hold him close, carrying him back to our apartment, while he purred and buried his face in my shoulder.
When I wanted to die, I would reach out to him. I couldn’t leave this needy little soul. He saved my life just by being there, and I saved his by taking him in and giving him the love he so desperately needed.
As he got older I began to have dreams I’d be outside, perhaps with some friends, somewhere near my car but not right next to it. I’d look up and there would be Paco, waiting for me. He sat close to my Toyota, patient and loyal, knowing I would return. I’d wake up from those dreams and call his name, and he’d come running. As if he knew what had been playing out in my mind moments before, he’d stay by my side until I fell asleep again. When I woke up, he’d be a little distance away on the bed, as was his preference, but near enough to reach out and scratch behind the ears.
He died at the age of 16, just four years ago. Until the day he died, when I was driving home I would anticipate seeing him. I was twenty, ten, three minutes away from Paco. I miss him terribly, even though today I have the love of two wonderful kitties.
I pray Thelma Lou recovers completely. It isn’t time for her to leave us yet.
Update: I’m happy to report Thelma Lou came through her surgery as well as could be expected, and she’s now home. She has months — up to a year — before she is fully recovered, if in fact that ever happens. She may never run again, certainly not like she used to do on a regular basis. But she is loved, and love is healing.
Initially I was so caught up in notifying friends & family, making sure we had enough soft drinks & water for everyone who stopped by, and convincing the pastor of the church Jerry grew up in she should allow us to hold the service there I didn’t stop to cry.
It wasn’t until the afternoon of the third day after his death I slowed down enough to go home, sit on my sofa and…let go. Then I remembered one more call needed to be made, to our friend Sue, who was also a top stylist at a local salon. Many of my family were clients of hers, including Jerry, and she’d grown up with my aunt as well as his niece. Sue was in a meeting, and I asked to wait, even though they tried to get me to leave a message.
Finally, I said, “This really isn’t something I can leave a message about.” I hesitated. “Sue’s a friend of the family, and one of the family just died.” I started crying. By the time Sue got on the phone, I had pulled myself together enough to tell her what had happened. She began crying and we said good-bye.
I leaned back on my sofa and turned on the TV. This was back in the 80s, when MTV and VH1 actually played music videos all day long. I turned the channel to VH1. Almost immediately one of my favorite songs of that spring was playing. It’s not about losing someone to dying, it’s about the loss of love, but at that point loss was loss. I didn’t stop crying for more than an hour. It was a good thing. I needed to cry.
Yet another friend of mine is facing the end of his marriage.
I saw him today, and the sadness in his eyes reminded me of that day. He said he hadn’t been sleeping much lately; I told him to take a Sunday afternoon nap. I wish I knew of a song that would help him sleep just as this video helped me cry.
To all my friends or anyone this blog reaches, I pray you find a way to cry when you need to cry, and a way to sleep when you need to sleep. God be with you.