Epiphany in a memory (originally published 12 November 2021)
Some days, I almost forget I have several chronic illnesses. Other days, I struggle under the weight of them. Today has been a tough one.
My knee recovery is coming along. I’m managing with one or two canes depending on the time of day and how stiff I am. I have been absolutely gobsmacked at the energy that healing requires and the number of “spoons” it consumes each day. In 2015, when my other knee was replaced, my recovery proceeded like clockwork. I even went back to work after six weeks.
But things are different now. I’m different now. I knew that going into this, but somehow never really understood how different. Even activities of daily living are a challenge. Take, for instance, showering and getting dressed afterwards. By the time I’m done, I need to sit and rest for a while. Add the energy demands of healing after surgery and today I was exhausted, even though I’ve been sleeping much better.
The extra demands on my precious energy reserves wreak havoc with my modest plans. I’ve even fallen behind on my Christmas knitting. Some days I don’t have it in me to even knit. Other days, like today, I try but end up making stupid, frustrating mistakes that I never would have made before (i.e. before SCAD/CHF/LAM). Then I try to address these mistakes and additional chaos ensues: I overreach cramping a muscle or, I drop something, etc.
At moments like this, I usually have a choice: I can throw a temper tantrum or break down and have an ugly cry. I usually choose the tantrum. While it sucks as much energy out of me as crying, at least my nose isn’t stuffed up. Either way, it isn’t pretty. Thankfully I live with supportive people who recognize frustration when they see it and are gentle with me when I need it most.
In the aftermath, I often sit with my feet up on the sofa, gazing out my window at the stand of trees across the road, doing my best to seek refuge from my frustration and embarrassment in the halls of my imagination.
Today that exercise took me to an unexpected place.
I found myself thinking of my maternal grandmother the last day she was conscious before she passed away. I sat with her most of that afternoon, chatting with her when she was awake and knitting when she was not. She was calm and introspective, but also cheerful and grateful. At the time (20+ years ago), I marvelled at her composure and wondered how one finds peace and acceptance like that.
As I thought about my grandmother, I recalled she was a practical and realistic person. She understood what her body and her heart had endured over a lifetime, and she recognized she was soul-weary and ready to move on to a new form.
Today as I looked out my window, exhausted and emotionally spent, I realized that I’ve had a small window into that mind-space from time to time over the past three and a half years. Chronic illness wears on the body, mind and spirit and leaves me soul-tired sometimes.
Surprisingly, this epiphany did not leave me upset or frightened. Instead, it left me feeling hopeful. That my grandmother achieved such serenity when her soul-weariness had almost consumed her tells me it is nothing to fear.
I didn’t ask her what she dreamed about as she napped that day. And I could only imagine what she experienced as she slipped out of consciousness shortly before her death. But she maintained an aura of peace and contentment through it all.
And over twenty years later, I have a better understanding and appreciation for the experience she shared with me then, and am even more grateful for it.