journal entry | sleep.

I haven’t been sleeping.

Oh, this happens from time to time, but my familiarity with it doesn’t make me any less frustrated when it shows up. I’m sure it’s stress, I’m sure it’s anxiety, I’m sure it’s depression, I’m sure it’s the pain in my muscles and joints, I’m sure it doesn’t really matter what it is because I just miss sleeping.

Nevertheless, here is where I am, and here is where I’ll stay until the loop closes itself up and I’m back to the part of the cycle where I sleep a bit better, where I’m in a bit less pain. Or maybe this loop will never close up again. I don’t know. I’m always wondering if this will be the time when the loop never closes back up, the time when it is no longer a cycle of pain and flared unhealth but a consistency of it. I don’t know. I just don’t. There’s so much I don’t know.

And the questions I have don’t have answers. Perhaps I need to get used to it. But: I want so much more than a month or so of feeling good. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask. But maybe it is. Maybe I’m presumptuous. Maybe I’m missing the point entirely.

I am. Maybe I should ask what that point is and actually listen for the answer. I ask all these questions about my future, my health, my life, my body, my mind. Me. Me, myself, and I.

Or maybe the point is that there is none. Sometimes things just are or are not, just exist or do not exist, happen or do not happen, heal or do not heal.

It’s logical, but sad and wrong, how easy it is to become selfish when you don’t feel well. It’s so easy to close in on yourself, to lock up. To say no to going out, to say no to community and friendship even. It is easy to say no to letting people in, to letting them see you and know you. And it’s hard to stop smiling and laughing and maybe let them see you cry, and it’s exhausting to step outside of yourself, to forget about the pain you feel so intimately and truly and persistently and to wear someone else’s pain.

I’m reading Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, and in it, she says,

“When bad things happened to other people, I imagined them happening to me. I didn’t know if this was empathy or theft.”

Bad things have happened to people I love. Of course! And I have felt for them. With them, even. I know how hard it is to love someone who is in constant pain. I know how difficult it is to see them walk like there’s broken glass underfoot, like there are brambles woven into their skeleton, like their muscles are made of rusted iron, like their mind is made of different stuff.

I’m also afraid sometimes, late at night when I’m trying to sleep or perhaps early in the morning when I wonder if the day will be better or worse than yesterday, that I know how difficult it is to experience those things firsthand. So I often I wonder if, when I see them if I am seeing my future. I wonder, is this how my loved ones will feel when they see me? I wonder, is this how my feet will move, my mind will churn, my hands will swell, my body will burn? And I wonder, is this how my children will look at me and wonder?

Perhaps the point is, since I know how hard it is to love someone in pain–or rather, or and, how hard it is to see a loved one in pain–

I am afraid to be the one in pain that is hard to love, the one whose pain pains others. I’m afraid to be sick and to be loved in all the ways that might be shown because I know. Because out of all the things I do not know, there is one measly sad truth that I do know: I know what it’s like on both ends, and it is work.

Maybe I’ve swallowed the empathy I feel toward them and made it about me again. Maybe I’m not really wearing their pain to share in their suffering but to process my own personal baggage. Probably the latter. It happens involuntarily. I don’t try to make their suffering about me, I swear. But it’s easier to imagine myself wearing their pain than it is to process what I see when they wear it. Let’s see, does this joint pain justify my sleeplessness? And this depression–does it match my inability to get out of bed in the morning or have consistent, intentional conversation with the people I care about? What of this fatigue? Does it work with the general malaise I already have? How would I wear this out to the store? To church? With my future children?

Me, myself, and I. Is that empathy? Or is it projection? Or even worse, is it a hijacking of their hurt? A filibuster to reframe and revert their experience?

Leslie Jamison also writes,

“Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us – a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain – it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.”

Maybe trying their pain is not empathy. Maybe wondering about my future with their pain is not empathy; maybe it’s burglary. But this burglary of experience feels sensical to me as I live with earlier versions of it. If I am well on my way to sharing the experiences anyway, why not try them on for size first, see how things feel, acclimate myself to the textures and structures? It’s logical.

Logical–but that doesn’t necessarily mean good or right or kind or loving.

It’s logical, but sad, how easy it is to become selfish when you don’t feel well.

I spend much of my time self-preserving. It makes sense that I would preserve emotional stasis.

Logical, but sad, and not always good or right or kind of loving.

Mom tells me that I turn into Spock when my emotions threaten to overtake me. Yes. I do. It’s only logical. It only makes sense to resist that which exhausts or empties us.

But not always good or right or kind or loving. I’m still learning what it looks like to take care of myself and also take care of others. To fill my cup but also let it spill over. To surrender to the intense need to retreat from time to time but eventually remember to put myself back out there. To need a good friend while also being a good friend.

To go to sleep at night but be willing to wake up in the middle of the night, pack my bags, and leave my worst self for my better. And then maybe go back to sleep.

But the problem is, I haven’t been sleeping in the first place.

journal entry | Today’s meaning is–

“We force life to mean because we are alive and not dead.”
Eric Maisel, The Van Gogh Blues

Life is game of meaning-making.

It’s a game in which the rules change, day to day, moment to moment.

Some days, like today, I win by immersing myself in work that is immediate and purposeful, in thoughts that are healthy. I go grocery shopping; the meaning there is easy to make: we need food. I update my resume; the meaning there is: I need a job in the fall.

Some days are game-changers, and I lose on those days.

The psychotherapist Irvin Yalom speaks to the game-changing moments: “How does a being who needs meaning find meaning in a universe that has no meaning?”

Translation: how can I find motivation (meaning) to get up in the morning when there is no external motivation (meaning) to get up in the morning, and how can I self-create motivation (meaning) when I am uncertain that I have the raw materials to do so? When I am almost certain that the world is made up of matter that does not matter, how can I assert that I am any different?

Some days, we are empty. Depression is a slow leak, a hissingly sinister removal of energy and joy and contentment, confidence, serenity, and self. The laws of physics, of science, of the empirical world tell us the truth: our finite humanity cannot make something out of nothing. The laws of faith, of theology, of God, and Creation, Jesus, and the gospel tell us the truth, too: the infinite divinity of the One, Alpha & Omega did, in fact, make something out of nothing–a rather grand something out of an original and desolate nothing–and His fingerprints linger.

So. Do we surrender to the void that depression offers, the nothing it has made out of our something? Or do we choose to believe the universe is churning and burning with meaningfulness? Do we resolve to notice the fingerprints of God, these speckled, freckled, pied points of meaning?

We do our feeble best to choose the latter. We do our feeble best.

Monday, March 7th, 6:53 am: Today’s meaning is being coaxed from hiding with the promise of a warm cup of coffee that I will sip slowly, siphoning for meaning in every atom of taste because I simply cannot be late to work again. Today’s meaning is: good employees show up to work on time, and I am a good employee, so I must show up to work on time. Today’s meaning is the transitive property and a cup of coffee.

Tuesday, March 8th, 4:45 pm: Today’s meaning is a paradox. I am at once thankful and burdened by the work day.

Thankful, because for 8 to 9 hours, meaning envelops me; I need not exhaust myself trying to make it. Each hour, 23 or 24 or 25 bundles of energetic, humanoid little fingerprints of Divine Meaning surround me; they say my name, and I answer, and there is cosmic–and all other kinds of–balance. What do you need? is my voice’s answer, but my soul whispers, Thank you for meaning; thank you for making meaning. I teach them. Subject, verb, object–semantically, grammatically complete. Today’s meaning is semantic, grammatical. 

Burdened, because I feel lost and numb at home. I know that as soon as sleep comes, restlessness will follow, and then the morning, and then work, and then again, the fatigue and numbness that feels much like a void. Climbing the same mountain day after day feels less like a worthy feat and more like the curse of Cartaphilus.

Wednesday, March 9th, 7:13: Today’s meaning is loneliness. Today’s meaning is by my self. Today’s meaning is, then, self-care. Today’s meaning is acknowledging the darkness of it all so I have no excuse but to turn on the light.

Today’s meaning is a warm bath, a decent work-out, and the intentional choice to feel.

Thursday, March 10th, 6:05 pm: Today, meaning peered down at me, two inquisitive eyes of the bird in my backyard that was strikingly blue, a sapphire atop a grey sky, deadened brown grass, leafless trees–a colorless afternoon. I gasped. It flew away. I cried.

Today’s meaning trumpeted in a phone call from my mother and father. It announced itself in my own thought: How did she know to call? It came oozing out of the words my mom said when I picked up: You’ve been on my mind. What is going on? It seeped out of me like a feverish sweat as I told them, Hope seems foolish, and so do the words, “It will get better.”

Today’s meaning was nourished by angry tears, invigorated by a splash of cold water, and framed by the reminder, I am lonely, but I am not alone.

Friday, March 11th, 1:02 pm: Today’s meaning is to prove to myself that I can do it–it being the next minute, then the next, and the next, and the next. Today’s meaning is mind-trick over matter, a placebo of meaning to tide me over until some true, cataclysmic, prescribed meaning comes. The pharmacy is fresh out.

Saturday, March 12th, 9:34 pm: Today’s meaning is presence and pressing on, the pressing of formless thoughts to the synapses to the fingers to the keys to the formed words. It is presence and engagement in the consciousness of the human mind, the will to create and make. It is the opting for life in all its simplicity and mediocrity and ho-humness, in the aisles of grocery shelves, the satisfaction of a car wash, the eating of a meal, and the utter miracle of the inheritance of our aliveness being the burden and beauty of our consciousness.

It is life and being alive.

“. . . presence is a dance, not a meditation; an engagement, not an emptying. Being present . . . is being intentionally present for the sake of reasons you deem meaningful.”
-Eric Maisel, The Van Gogh Blues

 

journal entry | lest i forget.

Let’s face it: I know quite a bit about depression and chronic pain. I have lived it, and I have researched it until the wee hours of the morning. I’ve read books and blogs, articles and essays; I’ve written them, too. I’ve got the book smarts and the street smarts.

So I know that my spirit is often struck with a dizzying spell of depression around the same time my body is struck with a spell of pain and fatigue (a frequent visitor whom I call “flare-up”).

I have been trying to pinpoint just what I’ve done wrong to have brought me here, to this feeling of back-and-forth numb and sad, numb and angry, numb and anxious, numb and achy. Did I take my medication on time? And my supplements? When have I been going to bed? And how’s my stress level? Am I exercising enough? Am I eating well?

I look up symptoms of depression because I’m pretty sure I’m there again, where the air is thicker, and the vision is murky, and time either passes too slowly or too quickly–I’ve too much time to feel this way but not enough time to pull myself out of bed and get things done–there, in one of those dark, zany places where I forget important things like food and water or bills, or worse, I can’t recall what I enjoy, and I somehow forget the importance of waking up in the morning on time.

It’s not like I don’t know this place–I know it well. But I read about it again, just to make certain what I’m feeling is not just me, that I’m not the only one, that enough people have felt this way before that it shows up on a Google search.

I look up chronic pain, too, so I can read what it’s like, to make certain it is real, too, and that those doctors are wrong when they tell me it’s not. I read that other people know what it’s like, and these feelings of anger and frustration are normal–so normal that Google can tell me all about how normal it is.

Normal. As in, I might not be crazy unless these thousands of other people are also crazy in the exact same way.

It’s always the same: a deep breath in, an exhale out: some small part of me is always oddly calmed. I’m allowed to feel like this. I remember that it’s okay to be not okay, that things get better, and this is just temporary. Depression is real, but I don’t have to live right here, right now forever, and I can cope and deal. That God is in it and through it and amidst it.

I am frustrated that I have to be telling myself these things in the first place, let alone, to have to go through this so frequently. I’m angry that it is often easier to pretend I’m “just a-okay” than it is to explain how I feel to people who want to understand but can’t. Each social interaction is a choice between authenticity or ease. But I can’t blame them. I can’t understand my own pain sometimes, and I’m living it.

What’s most frustrating is the lack of control I seem to have over my own body. “Eat lots of fruits and veggies!” they say. “Pilates and yoga!” “Water! Lots of water!” “Vitamin D and fish oil!” Yes. Yes, I do all of those things, but it doesn’t magically heal you. Chronic pain is chronic pain. Depression is depression. I probably am in less pain than I would be otherwise, but that doesn’t mean the pain won’t ever show up again. (Did I mention “chronic?”)

I do all of the right things most of the time, and I have been doing them lately, but my world still began to turn grey, and here I am, in this place where it is  hard to get up in the mornings, where I’ve been almost late to work every single day since school started back up again. Here, in the place where I fight back tears throughout the day, and if I’m lucky, grow numb by the time I get home, so I can work on schoolwork or clean or cook without wasting time crying about nothing in particular. I often sit on the couch for an hour (or two) telling myself that I need to get up and do something that makes me happy, trying to wrestle for control of my mind and spirits, repeating the mantra I can do this, that it will be good for me to push through and press on, but then I stay seated because I am just so tired.

This is the place where my bones and muscles ache, and I wake me up at night on the hour or two hour mark; my brain is foggy, dazed; I feel incredibly alone, even though I’m not; where I am not the person I should or could be because I have this nasty nebulous thing puppeteering my energies and endeavors. This is the place where I feel I spend each day wandering and floating–how the hell am I this tired when I can’t even remember what I spent the day doing?! Don’t even ask about how I feel when I see people with far more on their plate–mothers of small children or people working more than one job–and I wonder how I will ever be able to successfully maneuver my adult life with children of my own when I am in survival mode as things are.

I was having a rough day a couple weeks ago, still on the outskirts of This Place I Am Now, and one of my friends asked me how I was. I was honest with her. And her response back to me was, “What can we do about it?”

She wanted to help. She meant no harm, but I still had to fight back tears and silence the voice that told me, See? No one gets it. It’s always about you not doing enough. But how could she have known that my whole life is built around maintaining as much health as possible? How could she have known those things just weren’t working like they were supposed to be? She doesn’t know that every decision I make is weighed against the potential pain or fatigue it may cause me.

The answer to her question, then, is that there is nothing more I can do about it sometimes because I am doing all the right things-eating well, limiting sugar, taking supplements, taking meds, journaling, counting your blessings, positive framing exercises, physical exercise, doing what you love–and I can know all the right things–that this isn’t my fault and life will go on, and eventually I will be okay, and this is normal, and it’s okay to be not okay.

And I can still feel this way–crippled, ill-equipped, and defective, numb and uninterested, sad and angry, down and out, tired, depressed and confused, lost and more than a little lonely. And it’s not my fault.

There are moments when happiness is a choice, when you have control over the way you see and hear and feel things. And there are also moments when choosing happiness doesn’t do diddly-squat because you keep choosing it over and over again, and the machine is just not taking your coins.

So, what can we do about it?

All there is to say is what I always say when there is nothing else to say: This too shall pass, and Even so, it is well, and Even so, He is still good.

Lest I forget.

Sandglass

I am so tired, she says, a cavern
submerged in the watery light of morning.
Incrementally, she raises herself up from
the folded fulcrums of a blue grey blanket,
as tears are falling,
shattering like broken glass.

Methodically–because,
she explains
like an echo,
not to me or to anyone, really,
I’ve done this before,
hurried and hopeful,
but now I know: take it slow
or else you cut yourself

she crouches close to the ground,
sweeping up the shards.

Hope isn’t hurried,
she whispers (a cavern,
empty of some things
but not others),
to me, perhaps, or not to me or anyone in particular,
like an echo,
Breaking is so brisk, but–

She stops (she is tired, recall),
stands up,
and the creaking of her bones
are utterances:
Hope rises like the tide-
softly, simply, but always
it rises;
so, does she.

She moves with
sound strides that are
like the small sea swells of Puget
that wash away dead and dry
cracked shells,
shabby and shirked by the
hermits who’ve since moved on;
with strides like waves
that wipe clean the slate of a grey shore.

Toil is the deeply buried treasure,
but it is also the sand that buries it,
and today I am the tide.

What like a mosaic
her tidal tears make,
the lines on her face like lines in sand,
like sediment and sadness
telling the story of a heart
that will heal from hurts
and has no shame
for living life in the voluptuous bosom
that breathes and ebbs
in brokenness.

flare.

You ask me how I am, and I say, “Fine, and you?”

But what I really mean is, I can feel them creeping into my bones, the fibers of my connective tissues. They clang like cymbals in the pit of my stomach, loudly, forebodingly. They are in my head, gnawing, and in my fingertips, marching and parading, waving banners to mark their arrival. I can feel the banners throbbing and waving under my skin. I can feel the heat and fever of movement reaching the surface.

You’ve had a good week then?

“Yeah, it’s been okay. Can’t complain.”

What I really mean is, can I complain? Because if only you knew that I’ve been overtaken by unwanted guests, uninvited visitors that set up camp with no disclosed time of exit, the ones that rattle my nerves with their yelling and screaming until wee hours of the morning, the ones that doctors can’t seem to find, even when they stick needles right into the heart of where they’ve called homes, the ones that take me hostage and make me yell NO I CANNOT because I know what they will do to me if I say YES I CAN. Inevitably more banners of pain, more heat and fever, more of the color red–always red, and more of the clanging.

Got any big plans for the holiday weekend?

“Nah. The usual. What about you?”

What I really mean is, having big plans for a holiday weekend sounds a lot like throwing myself down a jagged cliff but still surviving the terrible fall, bloodied and bruised, and to be honest, I am carrying a lot of extra weight here, what with the uninvited guests entering my knees and elbows, my wrists and knuckles, and slowly making their way into my head and heart–ya see, they’re sort of big bummers to have around–and if only this holiday weekend hadn’t inconveniently occurred right as the uninvited guests showed up, and I tried to reschedule, they’re unreasonable, but thank you for asking, and your holiday plans sure do sound lovely, like a cliff.

I remember pointing at my head, shoulders, knees, and toes and laughing as I sang. I remember when they were just body parts not parts of my body’s pain.

Where do you hurt?

“Here, and here,” pen in hand, I circle places on a diagram, the head and shoulders, the knees and toes. “There, most of the time, but not all. And here. And there, too.”

What I really mean is, head shoulders knees toes and well… it is easier if I just circle the whole diagram, really.

Sometimes I wish my body could be seen in infrared, but instead of heat, it revealed levels of pain. Then you would know. Then doctors would see. And I wouldn’t feel so crazy.

What is your biggest fear?

“The dark. Fire. Being stuck with no way out.”

What I really mean is, I am often awake when it is dark when I want to be asleep and unaware of just how dark it is, and I can feel the fires kindling in my head, shoulders, knees, and toes as I sing the lullaby quietly to myself, and I sometimes feel fires spreading as I try not to move, stuck under the covers–no, too hot, out of the covers–no, too cold now–stuck because I know the uninvited guests will throw a hissy fit if I move again. No, perhaps I’m not really afraid of those things; perhaps I just hate them, so what I really mean is, I’m afraid of what happens next, and does the dark get darker, will the fire get hotter, and is there a way out, and will I always feel stuck?

What do you want to do with your life?

“I would love to become a teacher, and a writer. And a professor. And a mother. And.”

What I really mean is, God help me, I want to become all the things I want to become, and God help me, I hope the uninvited guests don’t get in my way, and God help me, can I answer the question about my biggest fear again because I am suddenly reminded of what mine is.

infinite losses.

/

Grief has no resolution. It ebbs and flows like the ocean–a compounding, building brick-upon-brick grief that picks up the debris and carnage around it until it is monstrous, then erodes away only to begin again.

It does not look backward or forward. It is the very top of the drop of a rollercoaster, the uppermost apex of tension and anticipation for both the best and the worst. Will I ever come down? Can I go back? It is too late. What awaits me?

//

How do you define yourself? I can tell you how I would answer. I am a 26-year-old who loves reading, writing, and I generally prefer discussing the meaning of life over awkward, pointless small talk. I love to sing. I am a teacher, a learner. I look forward to starting a family with my husband someday. I care deeply for my friends and family. I like to think, to challenge myself, to achieve.

All good things. All good things that can so easily, quickly, unexpectedly fall away, disappear, fade into the black. Who would I become then? What would I do?

As I’m building up this house, I wonder what of it will stay; it seems you just take things away.

///

I have watched illness and chronic pain ravage and thrash at my family’s well-being and tear away at the things they’ve built up. Good things that have defined them, given their life meaning, granted fulfillment–chronic pain and illness can take all of that away, and we all stand speechless at the scene of the crime. Helpless. Baffled. Hurting. What do we do now?

Grieve. We have to grieve the loss. There is no way around it but through it. Loss asks for nothing more and nothing less of us.

People ask how I am doing. I am grieving; I am unresolved; I am dissonant. Tomorrow may be better; next week it may be worse; next month it will assuredly be different. But it will not leave.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds in the way people think it does.

////

A story:

A country boy, rebel-without-a-cause with calloused hands and a warm heart, has grown into a young man has grown into an adult. He has traversed the many hills and valleys of growing up–death and loss, sickness, addiction, depression, exhaustion, the existential dream that is early adulthood, late nights, babies, doubt, crises of faith. He marries a woman whom he loves and who loves him; they ski and hike; they go camping and enjoy an active life. He works his fingers to the bone to provide for his growing family–night shifts to day shifts to sleepless nights to babies and wondering how they’ll afford diapers and formula. He is smart, savvy, kind. He  quickly climbs up the ladder of success, from the cement floors of warehouses to the corporate offices of management and directorships. High-stress, high-stakes, high hopes. He wakes up before the sun; he follows it home. He takes pride in his work. Affable and generous, charming and funny, he loves people, and they love him. What a good man, they say, even when he’s not around. I’d never want to work for anyone else. And they mean it. His children never see his stress; when he is home, he is Dad, who wrestles and plays catch, who tells funny stories and laughs, who rides bikes and plays around-the-world in the driveway, who rescues kites from roofs and crashes BMX bikes on rickety ramps…

We learn about this man by what he does and how he does it. We piece together who he is with these scenes: Able-bodied. Energetic. Down to earth. Active. Humble. Fun.

I prefer to call him Daddy. He is all of those things and more.

I do not know when it came, but chronic pain and illness snuck into the corridors of my daddy’s body like a thief in the night and made dirty, crusty homes in his joints and connective tissues. They acted quickly, eating away at what made his body strong and fluid, eroding his activity and mobility, his energy and well-being. In the swift blink of an eye, chronic illness threw a wrench into the gears of my father’s life. I cannot say when the rheumatoid arthritis crescendoed from cumbersome to crippling. But it did.

/////

This is part two.

He is in pain all day, every day. He cannot work without causing further damage to his body, but he works anyway–for as long as he can. He loves his job, and he is nowhere near retirement age. There are bills to pay, too. Gone are the hikes and pick-up basketball games, the crawling on the floor with kids. His joints are aflame. The flight of stairs in his house are Mt. Everest. He grapples with a disease he cannot stop, enclosed by the unfairness of it all.

His wife is struck down by a brain aneurysm, which she miraculously survives. But now they both live with chronic pain. With limitations and nasty assumptions. Forced early retirement. Astronomical medical bills. They are thankful to be alive, but their bank accounts do not express the same gratitude, nor do bill collectors. They foreclose on their home. His identity shrinks and sheds as everything he has worked for all his life are crumbling. Was it all for naught? Did he overcome so much just to end up here? How can he find meaning now, at mid-life?

It seems you just take things away.

That was years ago.

The disease has since progressed. The pain is worse; medication does little other than cause side effects. My parents’ lives are shaken; at every turn, there is a monster to fight. Loss, so much loss. Infinite losses that compound upon one another and are woven together and loop from here to there and back again, much like the negative feedback loop of symptoms that occurs within my father’s own immune system.

Loss of stability. Loss of health. Loss of energy. Loss of faith. Friendship, family. Loss of community. Loss of intimacy. Loss of the future. Confidence, dreams, hope. Mobility, ability. Trust. A way of life. Quality of life. Resources.

Depletion. Defeat. Being emptied out.

Identity. They have been forced to redefine and refill themselves, to redraw the lines of who they are, plugging picked-up pieces of themselves into the empty spaces the best they can as they travel down the road away from the carnage. Some days it feels more like they are outlining who they were in chalk, covering what’s left with a white sheet, and departing from the scene of the crime. A ghost.

Does this have a point to it? God, I wish I could hear you. Why did you take this away? I wanted it! Can I move on now that it’s gone?

//////

Daddy is still Daddy in more ways than not; for that, we are grateful. Mom, too, who has fought back her own demons and damage from the brain aneurysm.

Dad cracks jokes to break tension. He is ornery. He is charming. Nurses and staff adore him. He itches to work; he doesn’t idle well. In fact, the last time he was hospitalized, Mom is certain it was a result of his insisting to mow the lawn a few days prior. The day he was released, we caught him out watering the plants multiple times, claiming, “The nurses told me that I should walk around!”

Lies, of course; the nurses said no such thing. But that is Daddy–work ethic, affable charm, stubbornness, a need get his hands dirty, even as they swell and throb from the pain and damage of RA. I worry at times, but I also know he’ll never change; that’s okay. He is picking up the broken pieces of himself, putting life back into the carnage, clinging to who he is, giving a hearty, “F— you!” to his disease in the best way he knows how.

///////

There is much to be thankful for, and that is no mere platitude of piety or feigned strength. It is the honest-to-God truth; I stand upon it daily. It is my sword and shield–it is Divine Light of God in the dark that I can say even so, He is still good, and even so, it is well with my soul. (That’s my hearty, “F— you!” to disease and loss.)

But the grief hovers; it is tireless. Like the slow, pulsating light of a star, it fades in and out, taking its time to travel toward me, sometimes hidden or out of sight, yet always there. Even as the first light reaches me, always I know there is more to come, in waves of light–or of water, sound, color. Deep down I know, too, that in some distant, unknown future time, there will be grief that will hit like a supernova, a blast of radio static, a tsunami, a kaleidoscope. Whatever loss I experience now, there is other loss to come, and by God’s grace, I’ll find a way to stand up under it then, too.

So I am at once grateful and grieving, both accepting and angry. There is tension, an odd simultaneity and equality between grief, gratitude, and fear, empathy, sadness, anger. It is not either/or; it is all.

But how can one feel all of these things at once and not implode?

By giving each thing its place and its space.

When I think about life before my family’s chronic pain, I see snippets of scenes that are far away, so far removed that they feel more like mythology than history, more fantasy than biography. I don’t really remember what life was like before pain and sickness became part of the family, and perhaps I am protecting myself from the mirage of “the good ol’ days,” from the bitter kind of grief about how things were and how things are supposed to be not being how things are. Perhaps I am merely resting at a bend in the road where the scenery around me prevents me from seeing clearly behind me or ahead. At the top of the hill, perhaps I’ll see more; perhaps I’ll be ready for it.

All I know now is, I am struck with a grief with no resolution as I watch chronic pain and illness chip away at those I love most, to see them grapple with not only pain but crises of faith, of identity, of worth; they were not ready. At 25 years old and 23 years old, Jordan and I were not ready for this either. So I don’t look back, and I only look so far forward as is necessary. There is no relief when looking back brings only anger and sadness and looking forward brings no hope.

Where do I look?

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I can only look up and around–the here, the now. I see the good; I feel pride in watching my loved ones press on. I see the bad, and I curse it. I look heavenward when I am baffled, broken, bruised. I seek grace upon grace, joy, clarity, and peace, and I allow God to fill in the dry spaces of my heart that need Him.

I swallow the bitter seed of pain today, and tomorrow, one of sadness, and a week from now one of anger. I will digest it, let it settle, plant it. Looking up, trusting that even seeds of grief grow beautiful things when they are quenched by the Living Water.

I give each thing–good or bad, ugly or beautiful–its place and its space. I can’t weed out the bad until I see it for what it is; to do that, I must give it space and a place. Acceptance and surrender.

The only way around it is through it.

Grief will whiplash us if we try look beyond or behind it; it grows and crystallizes like old honey, becoming perverted and unpalatable if we ignore it. And yet, there will never be complete resolution to it because time does not heal all wounds in the way we think it will.

So what else can I do but call it what it is–heart-wrenching, unfair, painful; love well–even when I want to run away; and do the work. Give each thing its place and space.

The only way around it is through it.


*Quoted text is lyrics from Wavorly’s “Time I Understood.”