Thursday, January 17, 2008

When Illness Enters, Both Partners Suffer

This came to me in an email from a blog reader whose partner is ill. It is so truthful and eloquent, I wanted to share it, with the author's permission.

The biggest change for us, and the biggest adjustment we have to make to keep our relationship strong, is that this is really the first time in our life together that the door of mortality has been opened, if only a crack. In some ways, an age of innocence has passed. My wife has had surgical procedures before, for kidney stones, but “potentially life-threatening” has never been part of our vocabulary. Her current condition isn’t really either, not statistically or realistically. But even the thought of cancer, however remote, however treatable, however excellent the prognosis, is a change that requires an emotional adjustment by both of us.

A change has occurred in the way we look at one another and at our relationship
. And there is a feeling of loss attached to that. And I guess for me the most important thing I am working on is trying to remember that both of us are suffering from this condition and this uncertainty, that this is something we must both go through together as a couple, that the pain, fear and anxiety this has aroused is something we share equally. And most important, that this condition is something that offers an opportunity to bring us closer together instead of tear us apart.

I know from past experience, when my wife has been operated on before, that sickness can leave the well partner (me!) feeling isolated, separated and alone
. There’s the physical separation in that awful moment when the surgeons come into the pre-operative area to wheel your wife to surgery while directing you to sit alone in a waiting area because you’re not allowed or welcome to be with your loved-one right now. And that hurts at an emotional level, never mind the anxiety about the outcome of surgery. And then there is the separation you feel when you see your loved-one drowsy and sprouting tubes in recovery, barely able to recognize or communicate with you. And that is a lonely feeling, eased only by the relief surgery is over and has gone well.

And then there is the process of recovery when your partner of necessity must turn inward and use all her energy to heal herself, instead of devoting that energy towards connecting with you
. That’s when I find my need for emotional reassurance the strongest, even as I sometimes scold myself for selfishly even secretly adding to my wife’s burdens, however normal and natural I recognize these emotional demands to be. We rely so much on those little words and gestures and attentions that reassure us that, to our partner, we are the most important person in the world. And it hurts when circumstances prevent us from getting that reminder in the way we want, when we want, even for a time.

What has helped me to ready myself for the emotional chaos I know lies ahead is to constantly remind myself that
Tara is not the only one who is sick. She’s not the only one who is a patient. We both are. Both of us will be going through the surgery in our own way. Both of us will be waiting for the results, enduring the recovery and looking forward to good health again. So long as we go through all of this together as a couple, with a full awareness of how it is affecting the other, then these next few scary months need not drive us apart but can bring us even closer together. Thank you again for your thoughts and affirmation. It made me feel better knowing that I wasn’t alone in what I am feeling right now.


Deb said...

That is so beautifully written.

Terry at Counting Sheep said...

How beautifully written. I am moved.