I have discovered many similarities between physical pain and the pain of loss in these last few weeks. What I have found is I approach pain, no matter what the origin or manifestation, in many of the same ways with the same consequences.
These last few weeks I have had a festering tooth abscess that reached a crescendo four days ago. My only experience of greater pain was a head on collision when I was twenty that resulted in a near death experience and three subsequent operations. That’s how bad the pain has been these last few days.
When Bryan, Lydia and Matt were alive and going through their erosive debilitation on a daily basis, I could never give myself permission to validate my physical pain. I felt so guilty for being healthy watching them go through so much pain and struggle just to make it through a day. Even now I catch myself comparing my physical pain to what Lydia endured and always come to the same question – how in the world did she do it?
As I watched the characteristics of my physical pain these past two weeks, I began to see how I address pain in and of itself. When I am in pain I want to shut the world off, draw in and hold on. My life gets real simple. Things that were important to me fall to the wayside. I do what needs to be done and collapse from the pain. My patience turns to impatience and what is usually tolerable borders on intolerable so I walk away.
This is a lot like how I experienced the early stages of my grief. There are also emotional similarities as well. I’ve already mentioned the guilt, but it warrants a deeper reflection. Guilt pervaded my grief. I felt guilty for being alive, being healthy, being helpless to save them, being emotionally tumbled in the spin cycle of anger, fear and the ever present questioning of what did I do and what could I do.
During the intensity of my grief years back, my guilt level was off the scales because I simply couldn’t do much at all. These past two weeks my guilt was more of a gentler nature, just feeling like I need to do more, rise above this and get on with it. Even those feelings in my physical pain paralleled much of my early loss.
A successful life for me is to live in equilibrium and alignment. One belief system articulates it as living in balance and harmony – internal balance and external harmony. Pain challenges both my equilibrium and alignment. In other words, pain knocks me off center and throws me out into a twirling world and I ricochet from one moment to the next.
As circumstances would have it, the crescendo of my abscess occurred over the weekend. Rachel was out of town. The dentist office was closed. And I was left crumpled on my meditation pillow. I sat there stepping back from the pain and into the pain.
Just as I have leaned into every part of my loss, open and unclenching, I leaned into this physical pain and went where it took me. I would like to say the pain went away, but it didn’t. I would like to report that everything got better, but it didn’t. What happened was I began to observe how pain, no matter what form, informs me.
I began to study how I live with pain. The intense physical pain showed me the way I grieve and where it is healthy and where it is not.
It has been a long time since Bryan, Lydia and Matt have died. This month will be the ten-year anniversary of my mother’s death. Next month will be the first year anniversary of my brother’s death. With one loss, all losses return. I have found some important insights as to how I subtlety deal with the pain of my grief during this time of physical pain.
Consciousness equals choice. During this time of being knocked off center physically, I have realized just how I try to maneuver through pain. And in so doing, I have seen how I’m not really dealing consciously with the anniversary of my mother’s death and the impending first anniversary of Michael’s death. The subtle symptoms of my sorrow are there. It is affecting me on various levels, but I have not leaned in with open awareness.
Whether I am aware or not, loss permeates my universe just as invisible dark energy affects our cosmos. I either work with the pain or the pain works me. The unavoidable nature of pain is there for me to lean into for a reason. If I am to find healing, I must find where it hurts, how it hurts and what I can do with the hurt.
Ultimately, I called the dentist after hours. Another aspect of my dealing with pain is I try every means possible to do it myself. Not a good strategy. I don’t need to go through this alone.
None of us need to go through pain alone. For me, I have seen how I deal with pain, both healthy and unhealthy. I don’t need to shut the world out when I am in pain. I need to open to the people that can help. My instinctive nature to enclose harms more than helps. I have witnessed how pain takes me deeper into life. For it is only by going deeper that I find how I deal with pain and how I heal.