Reflection on Pain and Unfinished Plans

Bleeding hearts by liz west

Bleeding Hearts via Flickr / liz west

Yesterday as I read Kelli Woodford’s awesome post at Chronicles of Grace for the Unforced Rhythms link-up, I was feeling sorry for myself.

Enjoying a pity party!

Some weeks ago I shared I would be in a writing class for 10 weeks and posting only here and there. My husband and I also signed up to volunteer during the fall fund drive for our favorite local radio station, something I love to do.

Classes were on Wednesdays from 11am to 1pm, and volunteer efforts limited to other days of the week. I had anticipated intense assignments from the class and was willing to put in an all out effort. The second class was behind me and my assignment partially completed when the unexpected hit.

PAIN! Lower part of upper right back and right side.

“Must have pulled some muscles,” I thought. “But how and doing what?” It was Thursday, 9/25, the day after class, and we had no volunteer assignments until Friday, 10/3. I should be A-OK by the next class.

Fast forward to this morning, I sit here in unrelenting pain having seen one physician’s assistant, lab work and x-rays done, with a primary care physician booked out three weeks with whom I’ve exchanged emails, and conversations with my spine surgeon who has looked at the x-rays and declared all fusions and spinal repairs intact and nothing new to be found. Physical therapy doesn’t start until next Wednesday. And it’s only a trial to see if we can discover what soft tissue may be involved.

“SO WHAT’S WRONG?” I want to scream. No pain medication or muscle relaxant touches the pain. Heat and ice don’t make much difference. My only comfort zone is found flat of my back in bed with two pillows tucked under my knees and then that not for long. I’m just not a back sleeper.

Then I read Kelli’s post. And she wrote:

Good stories, rather, are about how the characters are changed in the midst of the mess.

Kelli’s thoughts on her pain and how she learned to listen to it caused me to stop dead in my tracks. I stopped, took a deep breath, and realized I needed to listen to my pain.

It wasn’t just the physical pain of an unidentified injury. My pain included the disappointment of having to drop out of my class. Frustration at not being able to volunteer with my husband and friends was another stressor. My blogs were unattended and bare. None of the things I really enjoyed day-to-day like reading, quilting, knitting were easily done because of physical discomfort.

Put it all together and I have a mess! Yes, a mess!

Next Kelli quoted my favorite writer, Frederick Buechner (read the quote at her post). Buechner’s words, plus Kelli’s, set my mind and heart on a straight but difficult path of listening to my pain. Like Kelli, I have avoided facing the inevitable: waiting for the next class in January, going through physical therapy, getting behind on writing and chores, just feeling sorry for myself. Face it all I must, and I will. (By the way, Kelli, I vowed to marry this man long ago, and I know it was before you did!)

Many thanks to Kelli and Our Heavenly Father for bringing Kelli’s message to me.


Where Is She?

“She isn’t the sister I knew,” my husband says when he returns from driving his sister, Mary Ellen, home last Thursday after lunch.

I don’t know what to say. I understand his meaning but I still don’t know what to say.

This is the second sibling I have heard him make this comment about, the other a brother who died almost three years ago.

“As long as you can remember the good times, the days in Outlook, Mary Ellen seems to have good recall.” I tried to encourage him. In fact it had happened over lunch.

When Bob arrived to pick Mary Ellen up and bring her to our home, she asked her now routine question, “Have you been here before?”

And the answer is always yes as one of us visits weekly, if not more. Since her assisted living community is only eight blocks away, we often make it our daily walk to visit.

But her short-term memory has lost its bearings.

We visit for a time and then lunch is calling us. It is our first time to sit just the three of us around the table as Mary Ellen’s husband died a couple of months ago, and her move near us and a nephew is fairly new. We join hands for grace. Her skin has the feel of thin paper, and her hands are cold. It’s in the upper 80s outside.

We chat amiably while eating. Mary Ellen jokes about her memory being unreliable, and we commiserate with her that ours isn’t much better some days.

Bob thinks of an announcement he recently received from their grade school in Outlook, WA, a tiny space in the road in the Yakima Valley. He mentions the name of the woman who sent it and with whom he has talked. He asks Mary Ellen if she remembers this woman from their grade school days.

She looks up and furrows her brow and says she doesn’t, her now nearly gone eyesight trying to focus on him.

And then she says, “There was a Dorothy Ross in Outlook.”

Yes, this was the woman Bob was talking about but he had used her married name and couldn’t think of her maiden name.

That recalled memory is from decades ago, but our visits with Mary Ellen recently have only been in the last two months. She doesn’t remember us visiting or others calling or coming by.

We sit later that day talking about family and memories. Bob and I know with certainty that we too are growing older daily and our memories aren’t always as sharp as they used to be. We encourage our children to slow down, make treasured memories, memories that will last, and write them down for future generations to read and share on and on.

Otherwise, a family’s legacy can be lost in time and age.

Doris Lessing quote on legacy

Quote by Doris Lessing via Brainy Quote

What are you doing to keep your family’s legacy? Your faith journey? Your childhood memories? Don’t miss the opportunity to pass this history along to future generations.

Today I’m linking up with:

Kelli Woolford at Unforced Rhythms
Joan Davis at Sharing His Beauty

and on Wednesday with:

Holley Gerth at Coffee for Your Heart
Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory