Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Finding Connection Within the Whirlwind

I don't know about you, but more and more of the people I know are getting sick.

I have a dear friend who was recently diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Another friend's 65 year old husband is sliding quietly into end stage Alzheimer's. And there are too many women friends who are being treated for breast cancer.

The sadness of it is a weight we all carry, mostly separately, and at special times, together.

I grow more and more aware of how the battering ram of illness smashes down hard on couples and leaves partners flattened and afraid, without instructions for how to use the strength of relationship to build resiliency for facing the trials of illness.

The flattened partners are quickly scooped up by the medical whirlwind, and their own voices are lost in the loudness of clinical talk about diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy, prognosis, trials, and options. There is hardly room to breath, let alone time to connect and remember the power of love and shared memories. There is no time to grow into awareness of being a couple, of not really being alone, when isolating words like cancer, stroke, heart attack are surrounding you.

I can remember times when I felt that the world had shrunk to just two points - me and my pain. There was no horizon, no tomorrow. Just this terrible duality of self and hurt. I thought nothing could reach me. Then Richard would come home from work and we'd sit on the couch in silence, leaning against each other. The world would shift, sometimes only for a few minutes. I felt accompanied. That there was a shoulder next to mine helping me carry the weight of pain.

There can be so much energy in the couple connection. Even if the relationship has grown dull, illness can sometimes compel alliance. When faced with a frightening diagnosis or mysterious symptoms, be silent for a moment and look into each others' eyes. Hold hands. Maintain contact within the whirlwind. Use each other as anchor points.

Have you been able to find moments of connection with your partner? How do you do it?


Baffled said...

One of the moments I treasure the most was on a day when I was totallly stir crazy. I had been in the house by myself for four days cuz hubby was at work. I got dressed, he helped me into the car and he drove me to the ocean where there were benches looking out over the water right next to the parking spaces. It was late enough in the day that there were lots of spaces so he picked out one very close to a bench. He then helped me hobble over to a bench where we sat watching the boats come in for the evening, the seagulls trying to score breadcrumbs and the moon slowly rising. It was a great evening.

Barbara Kivowitz said...

Hi Baffled,

Yes...the ocean... all that prana (vital life) energy. That's where I often go to replenish. And how wonderful that your partner helped you create that moment. And that you now both have that memory to carry with you everywhere.

Jamie Valendy said...

My husband and I have only been married for a year, but he has been wonderful through these rough times of my illness. He doesn't belittle my "little" victories. Even though we aren't able to go out very often (physically or financially), he helps me get dressed nice so I can feel beautiful... because he already sees me as beautiful, always. He makes me laugh, holds me when I cry, takes care of me... loves me. Though I hate this illness, perhaps it has helped solidify the bond that my husband and I have with one another and with God.

Toni said...

Hi Barbara,

I wish I could email you privately so this doesn't look like a promotion for my book, but reading this and so many of your posts, I'm hoping you've had a chance to look at the book I wrote on living well with chronic illness -- it's for both the ill person and for the caregiver.

It's Buddhist-inspired but is non-parochial. It's intended for everyone. From the feedback I'm getting, it seems to be helping a lot of people (which is my goal -- it's not a moneymaking proposition!). If you'd like to see more about it, here it is at Amazon:

I think we have a lot in common in our approach to illness.


Barbara K. said...

Thanks for sharing the info about your book Toni. Couples living with illness need this support.