I apologize that I haven’t been able to post here for awhile. Diseases and sundry disasters have intervened. But, I am back and looking forward to sharing my thoughts and information with you.
Loss is something everyone experiences at some time in their life. All will experience losing someone or something, and the greater the value, the keener the sense of loss.
When I talk about loss with people I often bring up a very famous figure, Job. Here is a good, happy and wealthy man who lost almost everything in this world — wealth, family, then health. Whether you believe Job actually existed or not, the biblical story of Job is a very good account of how a person deals with loss. Even Jung devoted a small book to the problems implied by Job’s losses, titled, Answer to Job.
I’m not going to debate in this post whether there is a God and why God lets things happen to good people. I may have some further comments on this after re-reading C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain. ( Or rather listening to it as an audio book, as I can no longer read the paper pages of books and magazines.)
I want to point out Job as an example of a man who lost everything that he could possibly lose — save only his life — and still had faith that there was a higher power, that he was not alone in his suffering and that as long he lived there was some purpose for his life.
I have lost so much in my life. Those of you who know me understand that my life has been full of suffering and loss. I have a PhD in loss (Pain, Hardship and Disaster). Even my life is being taken.
When we suffer loss we may have some forewarning or we may not.
Even if we know the loss is coming, as much as we try to prepare ourselves, we are often surprised at the effects on our lives.
For me, there came a time when I could no longer drive. Selch and I had talked about some problems I was having with loss of attention while driving. I scraped a toll booth, and a guard post in a filling station. When my son was with me, he warned me a couple of times that I was swerving off the road, but I didn’t recall it, so I thought he was exaggerating. One day, Selch followed me to get the car fixed and told me that I was swerving in and out of my lane on the road and it was too much of a danger for me to drive.
I imagined when I was younger that if I ever wasn’t able to drive, I would be totally devastated. I think because I had already had so many other losses and I had been driving gradually less and less, I was better able to cope with the loss than someone who was still working or who had small children.
Still, I had regrets. We lived on the East Coast and I wished I had taken more of the driving trips I loved to do.
From the time I got my license as a teenager, the ability to drive has meant freedom. My mother would take away my car keys to punish me because she knew that it really tortured me, to not have the freedom to get out of the house, get into the car and go somewhere, or nowhere, just so long as I was driving.
For many years, even after I had children, if I was troubled, depressed or mad, I would jump in the car and drive down the highway for several miles and drive back. I imagined if I had been born a few hundred years ago, I would have gotten up in the middle of the night and run through the forest or the fields. (Also, I probably would have had a shorter life span, because even Little Red Riding Hood knows it is dangerous to walk through the forest at night!)
Now, that I am confined to my recliner most of the time and getting out is a major production — with a wheel chair and making sure that I bring a bag with all my medications — I rarely think of driving. Still, some nights I wake up at night searching for my keys until I realize I can no longer get up and go.
For me, there have been losses I haven’t expected. I had been having abdominal pain that had been ongoing since the last trimester of my last pregnancy and had been getting progressively worse. I saw an OB/GYN who told me I probably had abdominal adhesions. They could be pulling on sensitive tissues internally, causing the pain, without any abnormal lab results.
She told me that she would do a laproscopy of the abdomen, a fairly simple day surgery procedure in which she would make a small cut and insert a tube in my abdomen so she was able to see the adhesions and cut them out. Selch took me to the hospital on Valentine’s Day in 1997.
I had worked in the medical field for several years and had day surgery before. I was first aware that something wasn’t right when I woke up and they were pulling a tube out through my mouth. Even though I was very groggy, I knew that I must have had general anesthesia. I panicked inside. What had gone wrong?
The doctor told us that there had been more adhesions than she thought so she had converted my surgery to a laparotomy. I wondered why she did a laparotomy without having me consent to it first. From the moment I came out of anesthesia, I had severe pain in the right side of my abdomen to my back and down to my thigh. I didn’t know then that the pain would never go away. She had damaged three major abdominal nerves, and surrounding soft tissue, causing Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy.
I couldn’t walk correctly for the first two weeks and the doctor told me it would resolve itself. The walking got better but the pain was unbearable. I had taken a two week leave of absence from my job. I had just started a new job. I tried to go back a few times to work but could not stay for more than a couple of hours. My pain was too great. I had to resign from work. Selch, who was my boyfriend at the time, offered to let me stay at his house to recuperate. I had to let my apartment go. We thought it was temporary and that I would be able to get back up on my feet and get a job eventually. I was never able to go back to work.
I had been employed full time since I was 21, and had been the primary bread winner after my children were born. I worked my way up to being a director of a department at a young age. After I gave birth to my daughter, I worked for a company in which I assisted doctors in reviewing medical records for quality, then I became a consultant in a health information department. I had been through a lot of hardships already and had had two failed marriages, but I always thought everything would be okay because I was able to support myself and my children. Not having that security was a huge loss. From then on, I was dependent on someone else.
I often don’t realize on the last day that I am able to do something, that I will never do it again.
When I left my job the last day that I worked in March 1997, I did not know that I would never work outside my home again. I had lost relationships and things before this happened, but I always believed that no matter what I would be able to support myself and my children. I did not make a great deal of money but I worked in the medical field and there was always a need for the type of work I did. Originally, I planned to stay with Selch for two weeks while I was recovering. I never left.
I lost the sense of security and the independence that I would be able to take care of myself and my kids no matter what happened. And losses have a tendency to pile up on top of each other. I had received a lot of emotional support over the years from a network of close friends at work. They continued on with their busy working lives. We met a few more times for lunch and after work, but I would repeatedly have to cancel plans because I was not feeling well. My friends stopped asking me to go out.
People started feeling uncomfortable around me. They didn’t know quite what to say about my pain and I didn’t want to talk about it much fearing that I was imposing on them. The other problem was that I wasn’t in the working world anymore. I wasn’t part of the team, I’d lost track of the players.
Finally, one of my last work friends flew the coop. I called her the Buzzard of Happiness, because when she talked about her life it all seemed so hopeless, but yet she had been a good solid friend who had a quirky sense of humor.
The last time I talked to her was when I had to cancel a movie date with her for the third time. She told me she could no longer be my friend, her life was depressed enough without having to think about my situation. Our outings had been one of the bright spots in her life and she didn’t want me to become another person she dreaded seeing.
My feelings were hurt but I appreciated her honesty. She was able to say what many are not able to.
We discovered that my pain would never go away. My RSD might have been treated effectively, had it been diagnosed sooner.
Many of us have some losses that are so profound and hurt so badly that they are difficult to share. I have had a few losses that bring tears to my eyes when I even start to think of them. You know these losses that leave you so brokenhearted that you build a grave someplace within yourself, a quiet dark space where you can go to mourn.
I spent most of my day today trying to explain the loss of my children to you. When I started typing the words, I remembered again the one normal weekend that became a catalyst of change for me and my children. By the time I finished, tears were dripping down my cheeks and snot was flowing out of my nose. I am not an attractive crier. My eyes are red-ringed, my nose is as red the honker on my coach’s face after he had been on a bender, and my head feels like the dead weight of my sorrow has crashed down upon it.
I can’t share that story with you today because someone with piercing words recently sliced open the tough scab over my tender wound. Yes, I am bleeding again, but I am not as raw as I once was. I have developed tools over time to staunch the flow. So I will save that story in draft for another day.
When one domino falls, the others behind it usually fall in an orderly fashion. That isn’t how it is when you are riding the train of life. One break in a relationship, a health crisis, even what might begin as a small lapse in judgement can cause a cascade of collisions on down the road. Many continue on life’s journey but they are riding a on a crooked rail. The heart becomes a wounded member that limps between the strong beats of life.