In the quiet kitchen, I write while my two most worthy and stalwart caregivers, Steve and daughter Elena nap. Their brief rest is so richly deserved, I hardly want to make a sound to disturb them.
Sleep for me comes and goes throughout the day, moments of fatigue when I can hardly hold my head up are coupled with long nights of tight muscles and restlessness.
Last night, during those time-stretched hours, I finally started to wake up emotionally. I started being aware that I had something like PTSD or acute stress disorder a few days ago. It is something you can “get” in many ways… basically anything that threatens your well being in a major way will do it. And that includes a diagnosis of a life threatening illness. When I finally looked up the symptoms of either, I fit as many of them as I did leukemia. The feeling of being “flat”, and outside of the normal reality is a major marker. I noticed that my eyes wouldn’t hang on to the outside world. My focus narrowed. I cried regularly when reading notes but the rest of the time, I just felt numb. Basically, I just wanted to curl up in a ball.
Slowly, so slowly, my own awareness swam through unnavigated seas to some shore with the rope in her teeth, found an anchor and stopped the endless drifting. I never would have guessed that the anchor was grief. But when I felt it, I knew its strength and the numbness flowed out through the tears. It birthed the first healing that must take place before the body can be cured: first the soul must allow the deepest levels of anguish that it has been holding.
Since my boat ran into this rock, I have just been bailing and not looking up to see what the extent of the damage or how far from shore I was. And last night, I realized, I just don’t know the answers, and actually, no one does, and so bailing is all I (we) can do. Today was the day we had planned to be in Peru, on our way to Machu Picchu. Less than a month ago, I was packing, planning our travels in Ecuador, finding the very best shoes for the Inca Trail. There was a vague fatigue at the edges, but I had not yet begun to relinquish the trip. Now that seems like some fantasy, along with a freewheeling energy that loved to roam over hill and dale.
Grief will help me keep from having some kind of hardened PTSD. I welcome it. My life has changed, so have the lives of my husband and daughters, even the life of our big black dog, who just a month ago was our constant companion. Our lives changed. Dramatically. Abruptly. Powerfully. I think it is okay, even necessary, to mourn that change for all of us. In every way, it brings me closer to the suffering of the world, and to the ways that this happens to people and animals all the time, everywhere. I feel a huge compassion opening deep inside the edges of my own story.
Okay. Enough. I just learned today that I will be admitted back into the hospital on Saturday for 8 more days of intense chemo, Round B. Now that I have allowed grief to enter my numbness, I feel a chance at least of holding some sacred space inside myself; not armed, not intellectual and or necessarily optimistic, but simply open hearted and mindful.