July 31, 2000Dear PainPal~
Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote, "Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling into at night."
My mother passed away earlier this month. In my last letter I talked about how her illness helped me realize that I can't do it all and that it was unrealistic of me to expect myself to respond to her needs as I would have if I didn't have limitations of my own. But when someone you love is dying, you become part of their journey both physically and emotionally. From the moment I got the call that my mother was being rushed to the hospital until the early dawn, four weeks later, when the wonderful woman who helped me care for her at home woke me with the quiet words, "She's gone," I shared in my mother's time of transition.
During those few weeks I was unable to sit still, unable to eat or sleep. My body was responding to a knot of thoughts and emotions, and none of the ways I had relied upon for pain management were working. I began to feel like a clock that has been wound too tight. Even when those around me began to express their concern, I didn't realize how physically and mentally exhausted I'd become. By the time I got back home I was numb. I can barely think about what has happened. Even more painful are the many daily reminders that she is gone.
When one you love has died, you're likely to go through an intense struggle in order to deal with your loss. The emotional pain of grieving added to your physical pain can take you to extremes. I know that's how it has been for me. Now, if ever, it's my time to learn how to take care of myself in the best ways possible. Mom's dying has given me new insights into my living with chronic pain, like it or not.
It is likely that our response to pain was taught to us by our parents. With the help of the hospice nurses, I learned that my mother's considerable pain was only measured in the furrow of her brow or the nearly imperceptible clenching of her jaw. I have only to look in the mirror to recognize that my pain is revealed in much the same way.
No matter how terrible the happening, there is a gift hidden inside of everything. One of my mother's gifts to me was to reveal, in her last weeks, the subtle ways in which we as a family learned to experience, express, and manage or deny pain. My gift to her can be to keep myself rested, fed, and healthy. She would have wanted it that way.
Have a pain-free day, my friend.
[I am the author of a pain scale that is specifically designed to be a communications tool for you to use with your doctor. Because you fill in your own words to describe your unique and individual experience of pain, your healthcare providers can get a better understanding of (1) your level of pain, (2) what causes it, and (3) what makes it better or worse.]