More Dear PainPal...

Sharing our Truths: Part I

November 8, 1999

Dear PainPal~

      I hope this finds you happy and feeling as well as possible today.  I can tell you have a lot on your mind.  You wrote, "Then she turns around and wants to talk to me about her loss, and to be honest, I'm really not qualified to discuss grief.  So what can one do when it's our moms asking us, their adult children, these questions?  Especially when we, ourselves, are dealing with our own chronic pain and illness?"

      This really hit home.  I've been thinking a lot about mortality lately, especially my own.  And because my mom's health is failing and I'm not in the best of shape, either, I've got to look at it now.  Otherwise the unanswered questions are just going to sit there and simmer under the surface.
      Even when I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome on top of everything else, I felt pretty invincible.  I thought it would go away, but I continued to get worse over time.  Day in, day out, I felt like I had a case of the flu that just wouldn't quit.
      Through all this, I struggled with the sinking realization that my mother really needs me right now.  Could I overcome my own fears and misgivings about my own illness and give her the support she needs? One day not long ago I got my answer.  It sort of went like this:

      I was really scared.  My mouth was dry.  Just thinking about what I was about to say and how to word it just right made my throat clench.  I could feel tears welling up somewhere inside me, too.  "Oh, geez, don't start crying now," I screamed at myself in the privacy of my head.
      I was visiting.  We were lounging in our usual comfy spots in my mother's living room.  She was having a particularly bad day with her breathing.  The day before she had mentioned not feeling well and how she was becoming deeply discouraged with how badly she'd been feeling over the past several months.  I didn't pursue the conversation then, but I couldn't shut it out of my mind and laid awake that night thinking about what she'd said.  Or, rather, what she hadn't.  Now it was time for more.  I had a *big* question that I had to know her answer to before returning to my own home this time.  I was beginning to understand that I may not always get another opportunity.
      My mom is such a private person, but then I suppose most moms her age were built that way or maybe it's just how I see her.  Old school, no way would she consider discussing her inner feelings with anyone, not even people she's close to, much less any professional or her own doctor.  Maybe no one ever asked her how she felt.  Whatever, lately she started talking to me about different things and, to tell the truth, it was making me feel very uncomfortable.
      I'd been thinking a lot about how to say the things we never seem to get around to saying, Mom and I.  Things we ought to know about each other, and don't.  Important personal things, deep and real and meaningful.
      "I've gotta put this just right," I told myself.  "Make it sound as if I'm talking about me, not her."
      "Mom..." I started.  She looked up at me almost like she knew what was coming, was prepared for it, maybe even had been waiting for it.
      "Mom... I've been thinking..."  Geez, how was I ever going to pull this off?  Too late to stop now.  She had that expectant look on her face.
      "Mom, I've been thinking a lot about dying lately.  I don't think I'm afraid to die.  Are you?"
      There.  I'd asked it.  I'd torn the wrapper off the ultimate taboo subject, exposing what was inside.  Baring a tightly wrapped part of myself, too.  The words floated in the air between us.
      She looked thoughtful for a moment.   "No," she mused finally.  "I'm not."  Then, stronger, "I like to think there's a better place..."
      "Oh, there is," I interrupted, bright with relief.  Too bright.
      "... but I don't want to suffer," she finished.
      "Oh, God," I thought.  "That's it. The hope and the fear... it's not about dying, it's about suffering."  Now I know.

      Am I qualified to talk to her about suffering?  Or grief?  As good as I need to be, I guess, which isn't saying much.  The truth be told, I'm really just winging it.  I've sure been feeling a lot of grief for some time now.  I'm losing my mother, my ground note.  I know it and she knows it even better than I.  And struggling, tentatively, more and more she turns to me for comfort and answers.
      As poignantly painful and downright hard as it is for both of us to reveal some of our deepest thoughts and feelings, I don't want to wake up some morning to find her gone before we've had a chance to talk about the things that are knocking around inside our heads like little ghosts that haven't found a place to rest yet.

      My friend, I don't know what qualifies us.  One day, about six months after I became so ill, I found myself sitting in Dr. S's office once again.  More tests with no answers, more reports that said nothing, more treatments that didn't help.  I was discouraged and starting to feel vaguely scared.
      After I finished getting dressed and was starting to leave, I turned to her and joked hopefully, "I'm not going to die from this, am I?"  I grinned at her expectantly, sure she'd hug me and laugh and say, "Don't be silly, of course you aren't!"
      Instead, she sat back down and looked at me, her gaze level and unflinching.  I saw the answer in her eyes long before she spoke.  Her silence loosed rabbits on a grave I didn't know was hidden in a back lot in my mind.
      "You could," she said quietly.   "We don't really know what's wrong with you."
      That qualified me to talk about anything that comes up, I suppose.  Or, rather, made me realize that I had been qualified all along.  We all are, just by virtue of having lived, but sometimes it takes an "event" like that to make us realize how ultimately capable we are as human beings to break the silence and speak our truths to one another and especially to those we love.
      Who better than the people we love most to teach us about healing, even if indirectly and sometimes even by omission?  It's doubly powerful when we encourage them to heal through us in turn, I think.
      When is it time?  To talk about whatever it is we need to talk about?

      Have a gentle day,

            Your PainPal

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