Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Story about Chronic Pain & Relationship: Barbara and Richard

In a recent posting, I may have made it sound like Richard was angelic during my illness. He was not. But he was heroic.

We met in 1976 and got married in 1985. Ours was a star-crossed and, at the same, a star-blessed relationship. We loved each other to the core and respected each other’s fundamental nature. We started off with similar politics, sense of humor, and devotion to friends. He liked the doughy part of bread, and I liked the crusts. He ate the meat, and I chewed on the bones. He knew math, and I knew how to read.

For many years, we didn’t really know how to name the harder feelings without blaming the other for causing them. We didn’t know how to sit together and hold hands through the heartaches and the control struggles. I used words to contort emotional pain into something that seemed rational, but was really just an articulate relocation of blame. Richard shrank into confusion, frustration, and eventually silence.

We never gave up. And over the years, we grew each other up. We learned that in a primary relationship, at least in ours, what doesn’t get spoken eventually gets acted out. We learned to speak the unspeakable (more about this in a later post), and that while doing so felt desperate and destructive, it was actually the only path to a true reconciliation.

So, by the time I got sick, we had a solid track record of loving, falling into the pit, and pulling each other up to higher ground. He did all those wonderful, kind things I mentioned in the previous post, and more. He read to me, stoked my hair, kept the pantry stocked with almond butter and rice cakes (one of the few food combinations I could tolerate), and sat vigil while the waves of pain carried me farther away from life.

There were times he couldn’t tolerate my pain and his helplessness – and left. Sometimes he disappeared into the TV or his computer. I remember one evening when he came home from work, he found me collapsed on the kitchen floor, in pain, but mostly heartsick that I would never go to Paris or work or leave the house ever again. He just stood there dropping words of tired reassurance and then went to check the mail. I was crushed – not by his dispassion but by the fact that he had the option of exiting and turning his attention to something as wondrously ordinary as the mail.

He was not angelic – but he was heroic. He believed I would get better. He tried and tried and tried to comfort me. He took care of himself. He put my needs first. These simple things…but not so simple. One day, after I began to recover, Richard said with a tone of surprise, “Well now I know how selfless I can be.” He wasn’t being self-congratulatory. As a scientist and engineer, he was stating a fact. He had learned how far he would bend to hold onto me. To go to the outer reaches of love, compassion, limitation, and altruism, and to do so without fanfare and without expecting reward – that is heroic.


Anonymous said...

I took care of an angry and depressed, chronically ill spouse. It was hard and isolating and I was braver than I ever want to be again. Undoubtedly, I made it harder by insisting that it everything was fine and living in a world of denial-- only a few people actually knew the "real" man -- but I did the best I could. I have great respect and compassion for the couples who can come together, and make something of it, but I have just as much compassion for the rest of us, who get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other. So, I hope your blog helps.

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful honest, articulate and helpful. I,too, have been blessed with a partner who has grown and come closer as my situation has gotten more dire. But I have much sympathy and respect for people in the situation described by "anonymous" in the August 30 comment.
I don't know how I would get through all this without the support I have received. I hope that people like "anonymous" realize how important it is to reach out and try to connect with others who are able to connect and give back, even if a partner is not very able to.

Barbara Kivowitz said...

I have spoken to many couples and surviving partners who felt alone and unsupported - even emotionally abused. Illness creates tidal waves in the rhythm of a relationship. Some of us get pretty bashed up. To be able to say - "I did the best I could" under the circumstances you describe is truly heroic.

And, it is certainly wonderful and important to find connections outside of the primary relationship - whether that relationship is solid or damaged. Sometimes that's not always possible. I really only let two people into my world - Richard and one friend. I shut everyone else out.

muhdha said...

this is heart felt story, remind me when my beloved wife had ovarian cancer, she was in pain all the time.

we know more about cars than our body and most infos on the market about our body are not intended to beneifit us rather a market profit stradgy.

anytime a patient feels pain, that means that group of mauscles are in spasm for period of times. when muscle is in spasm, in East: CHI has been blocked, in WEST: circulation has been compromised, no repair work has been done and potasium has been washed out.

the chronic condition is d/t protein deficiency. terminal condition is d/t protein deporvation.

do you know that old fashioned potato chips are the super natural muscle relaxant and pain killer?

early morning, eat high protein breakfast, then lunch and potato chips and soda pop for supper. high protein means high fat too.

good luck

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Muhdha reminds us of a very important concept -- that the body is a whole system and we may be able to find ways to impact that system through ingenious gateways -- e.g. nutrition, acupuncture, emotional support, etc.

Judy said...

I can only imagine what I put my poor husband through during my toughest times. He was very heroic, patient and loving most of the time. I can remember when he would just get plain angry and mean to me. I now understand that it stemmed from his overwhelming feeling of helplessness over my situation. I think back to all the suffering he had to witness over and over again and I can't help but think how strong a human he really was to not run away and hide from it all. During my darkest days of deep depression, He kept nearby and tried to give me space when I needed it.Mostly, he took care of everything I couldn't take care of around the house. He gently reminded me to take my medications on time and made sure I ate to keep my strength up. At night he would lay beside me close enough but not touching because he knew that some touches really hurt me. It must have been a very difficult time for him not to be able to touch me the ways he was used too. I think having to watch me cry silently each night when my pain was untouchable had to have been torturous for him. I thank him daily for sticking by me and helping me get through it one flare at a time. He is my hero but he doesn't see himself as such, He only says " that is what you do when you love someone". His name is Richard also :)