I’ve had my fair share of health stuff in my adult life. Pregnancies that rendered me limited in functioning with hyperemesis, post-partum periods when I had ongoing undetected issues, hospitalizations, physical therapy, etc. But I’ve faced a new kind of challenge in the last year, and even in the last month.
Almost a year ago I saw a doctor for facial tingling and numbness, and saw more doctors and had more tests, and more tests, and just so many blood tests, tests that gave me a spinal headache and an emergency blood patch, and eventual tingling in other parts of my body, and more doctors, and not many answers beyond “auto-immune something.” I’ve explored lots of dietary changes, the rest & hydrate protocol, and just sit and wait for something worse to come along or these symptoms to abate. I’m grateful for insurance and access to good health care. I really can’t complain.
But over the course of this year, I watched as my productivity shifted and lowered, and shifted and lowered. I watched as my kids’ faces fell because we were not going to the Children’s Museum as promised, or people weren’t coming over for baseball & brats in the backyard as planned, or everyone needed to be quiet (so tricky for a 2 year old, let her tell you) so mama could rest.
And while pregnancy sickness was for a specific purpose: BABY! these embarrassing episodes of nell-can’t-do-that seemed purposeless. Something my husband could only sit alongside me, never able to fix or take away or heal. Something I wished so fiercely I could be independent from // independent from my suffering so it could be voluntary, at convenient times, and for specified intervals of time. Lord, I’m happy to suffer in my way and on my terms. At times it brought me to the brink of despair. This seemingly meaningless suffering.
And then there was my dear husband and kind naughty children. When we were married and pledged “in sickness and in health” I envisioned two curled over old people, gnarled hands clasped as they left Mass, fixing tea for each other? Not cleaning up all bodily fluids through pregnancy. Not coming home from work and sending me up to a dark quiet room for hours while he wrestled the kids, dishes, dinner, grocery shopping, and laundry. If anything, I imagined I would care for him because I’m oh-such-a-great-care-provider.
This isn’t just a humble brag on my man, but a coming-to-terms of what suffering means, and how to suffer well, and how to journey along with family who suffers because of you.
A little over a month ago I suffered a mild concussion. Reaching into a sliding glass doored shower to check the water temp for a kid, that kid inadvertently slammed my head in the door as he didn’t know I was popping back in. I hit my head on the door, the wall, and then the floor. The specialist gave me some prescriptions and advice on how to rest and build back up. Healing is slow.
And in some of those early weeks, I would lay in bed, in the dark, after the children had been tucked in bed not by me, with a pillow over my head to cut the sound of the fan in the hallway, unable to watch anything, listen to anything, unable to do much but squeeze my husband’s hand.
I squeezed and wept, wept and squeezed, but couldn’t weep too vehemently or that would hurt, too. Here our communication was reduced to wet hand palpitations.
In all this, I learn again and again that love at its simplest factor, its most basic form is charitable presence.
And all that suffering I have piled up? All the tears of frustration by my kids and the deep exhaustion of my husband and the worn-out helping hands of my family and the weary empathy of my friends? What of that?
Saint Ignatius of Loyola said: “If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.” And I know that no suffering has to be wasted. It teaches me about myself and my shortcomings. It gives me something to offer for the fractured relationships, balm for the wounds of those around me. Ultimately, I unite it with Christ’s and offer it back to God and the Blessed Mother when I say, “I breath this in and out for You. I give it to you, Mama Mary, to use as you see fit.”
Every day I try to reframe the sufferings de jour. Some days I do better than others. We aren’t left with many options. We drown in self-pity, even deserving self-pity is fatal in too large a dose. Or we find the meaning, the lessons. We beg for them when we are too tired to seek them out. And be vulnerable in asking for prayers. You sharing and me sharing give others a chance to put their own suffering to good work. We are never in this alone, even when we feel it.
Thanks for listening and sorry if I owe you an email or text! Little bit by little bit getting back to the pre-concussion pace of things! Yes, most days I am okay and if you see me and think I look normal I’m probably doing okay that day!