Two Kinds of Pain

It’s been nearly two weeks now since It happened.  It feels like it was so long ago and yet like it was yesterday.  Two distinct pains fight for my attention.  The sharpest pain comes from the memory of the last two weeks of Maggie’s life, watching her suffer through miserable circumstances.  More specifically, the last two days drive burning stakes through my heart.  It takes but a brief reflection on those days – the look in her eyes, the wordless touches, the weakening of her body, the helplessness I felt, the way her body shook with each breath – those memories yank tears from my eyes.  The other pain, that of her absence, is less sharp but I feel it will be with me much, much longer.  But that pain is familiar in many ways because for at least the last year, a little bit at time, I have been practicing losing her.

The last couple of days caring for Maggie were so incredibly difficult to experience that I have no real words to describe them yet.  I haven’t even tried to tell the story.  I can’t.  I don’t have it in me.  Thinking back on the brief moments that we shared scalds my heart with white hot sorrow.  Worse are the moments where I was there and she was not.  The deep, deep soul-sadness that takes hold of me when I think of those times is absolutely the worst sadness I’ve ever felt in my life.  To love someone so deeply and to watch them slowly melt away, suffering in pain and panic, is just beyond words.  As callous and selfish as this may seem, I’m glad that’s over.  I just could not have gone much farther down that path.  I am looking forward to the memory of the intensity of this pain fading as time passes.

It’s funny how pain seems to work as a memory.  I don’t really feel the pain any more since that which was causing the pain (Maggie suffering) is no longer an issue.  Maggie isn’t suffering any more, thus, the cause of my acute pain has disappeared.  Yet, when I reflect back on what happened, I remember how the pain felt and, wow, that just kicks me right in the feelers.  Hard!

Think about a splinter or deep cut you’ve had.  When the big log of wood was sticking out of your finger, it hurt like hell.  When you pulled it out, it still hurt like hell.  But eventually, the wound healed and the pain disappeared.  Thinking back, you remember it hurting like hell.  But, and here’s where it gets funny, do you remember the pain?  Or do you actually just remember that you felt pain but not the pain itself?  There’s a big difference there.  Can you actually remember the pain that was caused by that splinter inside your finger?  Or is it just that you remember that you were feeling a lot of pain?  Well, I remember I was feeling a lot of pain and that memory still burns tremendously.  But it’s fading.

The other pain, the pain of her absence, is more worrisome.  That pain is direct and real.  The cause of that pain is still very clearly a problem; she’s still not here.  I can’t make that pain go away by pulling out the splinter.  That splinter is here to stay.  Damn.

Oddly enough, the pain of her absence is something I’ve been learning to accept for some time.  A long time ago I wrote about how hard it was to have her disappear under the cloud of chemo treatments for days on end.  It was a heartbreaking process to watch.  Even on the best days, she wasn’t like she was before.  Her new 100% was more like 75%.  At least I had up to 75% of her for a solid two years.  For that I’ll always be grateful.

Then, in October or so, we really took a hit when we got that pain pump.  Despite (or rather, because of) the critically important work it was doing, it knocked her down another 20% or more.  She disagreed with me (shocker, right?) but it was evident in subtle ways.  A husband knows.  Sadly, she was leaving me slowly.  We both had to adapt.  It hurt my heart.  Badly.

The pain I feel now of her absence is all too familiar.  The pain of remembering how she suffered will dull as time passes because she’s not suffering any more.  But I worry that the pain of her absence, despite how long I’ve had to adapt to it, will not be gone any time soon.  It’s now here with me to stay.

14 thoughts on “Two Kinds of Pain

  1. You’re doing so well, son. I know it may not feel like it, but you’re moving forward … even when it’s two steps forward and one step back.

    I love you, and I’ll see you in a few days.

  2. Hi Chris:
    I’m one of your fans out here – never met you,check your site every day. I too am “practicing losing” my spouse from this same cancer. Your grace and stamina and smarts really shine – and it means a lot to me to get to know about your path as i make my way along behind you. And alongside my admiration for what you have done and what you are doing, I am deeply aware that you must hurt like crazy. I hope you have a ton of support, you so SO deserve it. LN

  3. Wow. Powerful. So sad. I feel for you. My mom is suffering from the same type of cancer and we’ve seen the the look of panic and pain in her eyes a few times. And, felt the helplessness similar to yours. I try not to think about what(ever) lies ahead and pray for a miracle.

    My dad died of a heart attack. Two months before he died, he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Now I know why, at the time, someone said to me, “Thank God for heart attacks.”

  4. I may just be your ole Granny, but I’m also a member of your very large & growing fan club. You’re doing great even tho it may not feel that way to you. Hang in there. We’re with you all the way. Love and Prayers

  5. Chris none of us can imagine what you are going through but through your words we can truly experience it with you… We all miss her too… we all have that hole too… Your words are comforting for us to read as I hope they are for you to write… Much love! ~C

  6. The Lord is carrying you.
    At his time, you will see and feel the sunshine; enjoy the rainbow; and smile at your Maggie.
    Trust me, Hijo.

  7. Chris, you really contiume to help so many people even after the fact. Only those who have lost in the same manner as you have will know what you are going through right now. Many of us have lost, some in the same manner and others in different ways. It still hurts. Physical, mental, or emotional…it still sucks.

  8. Chris,
    Maggie’s “Great Cancer Adventure” has been an inspiration for me and I am sure for many others as well. Maggie was the “total package” we all strive to be..stunning beauty with brains, loved by family and friends, happily married to a great guy. I hope people will see that cancer can touch anyone, even those who are young and beautiful like your Maggie.

  9. Chris & Uncle Chris,

    I know that I’ve said this before, but you were my hero growing up, and you still remain my hero. But instead of being a hero because you could kick the slats out of the back fence and protect me from the mean girls in school, now you’re a hero becuase you “walked through the fire” and you’ve come out the other side…sure, burned, scarred, but proudly wearing those battle wounds.

    I know a little boy who talks about his Uncle Chris all the time who also thinks he’s a hero…but I think that has more to do with his Uncle’s cool toys.

    I’m your #1 fan (other than the 2 maternal ladies), have been all your life, and always will be. You’ve been a great role model for me. I hope that I am half the man (er…woman?) that you are. I hope that your nephew turns out to be just like you.

  10. I do not have children, but I’ve heard theories about women forgetting the pain of childbirth so that they won’t be too discouraged from doing it again. It is funny how the body and brain can forget physical pain but not emotional pain. The wound never totally heals, but the scars, if they must be there, can be beautiful.

  11. Chris, I can feel the pain and emptyness that is described, but the dreams and your humor are amazing. This will all help heal, even though nothing will bring your wife, Maggie back in your life. Her spirit now lives on.

  12. My years in medical school didn’t prepare me for being on this side of medicine. As the caregiver and wife, it’s still hard to silence the could’ves, should’ves, and would’ves- the one last try, that trip we should’ve taken, the search for that one right trial that could change everything if we just knew which one, and the emotional struggle to accept the fact that it just doesn’t exist. Maggie couldn’t have had a more loving, thoughtful and caring person by her side through this experience and all those difficult decisions than you. It is clear from your writing that your concern for her comfort, love for her and respect for her wishes was paramount. Although grief is in many ways a shared experience, it is also a very personal and private one. The communal aspect of a shared fate to cancer does not heal the pain of the loss of someone that is the center of your life. It can at times be easier to be alone with feelings and emotions that aren’t easy to share or even explain. But the stories and memories are vivid, and are meant to be shared- even as they are such a bittersweet and painfully inadequate substitute for Maggie’s presence. Though I can deeply relate to many things you have talked about, I wouldn’t claim to know how you feel. However, your “walk through fire” over the past week- really, the past two years- is showing me that it is possible to face the greatest fear and suffer the biggest loss and continue on. Extremely difficult, painful and incredibly lonely…but possible. Your own story now remains to be written. The road may be uncertain, but as you said, the goal is to keep moving. The courage, honesty, and emotion in your writing about your love and life with Maggie and the pain of losing her has touched so many people. “A Friend” in a previous post mentioned you are still helping others as you chart a course through your own grief. I sincerely hope that continuing this blog also helps you in some way- because it most certainly has helped others, and as another caregiver and spouse in their 30s, it has definitely helped me. I just wish I was able to offer you some solace in return, though I know all too well that even the best-intentioned words offer little to comfort for the pain of Maggie’s absence. I, too, feel grateful to have the honor of an amazing relationship with my husband over the past 9 years, and treasure each and every precious day together no matter how few may be left. It is a rare gift to by chance find someone so special and to be able to share and experience the world together for however brief a time. As others have said, maybe that’s the miracle. Take care of yourself. We are thinking of you.

  13. Chris,

    I’m so sorry for your pain. All I can say is what you already know. It will take time. It will take a lot of time. I will continue to pray for you. Contine to surround yourself with the people who love you, and give yourself time to be alone too. Just try to give yourself whatever it is you need.

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