This is the message I saw on a poster I spotted in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit while taking my intern on a tour of the hospital. It was the creation of a child no more than 6 years old, the drawing simple and the coloring messy in that hurried way that young children create their art. But the message was so powerful that it made me stop dead in my tracks and reflect on its meaning.
How deep. How significant. How strong this child was to come up with such a message of wisdom, of bravery, and most of all of hope.
I was most struck by a single word in that six-word message: pain. "My goodness," I thought, "these tiny children know so much about physical pain, about feeling ill, about being poked and prodded day-in and day-out. They have no privacy, no interaction with their peers. They know all too well about emotional pain and what it feels like to not be a normal, healthy child.” These medically fragile children often live in the hospital for weeks on end, hooked up to loud, cold, frightening machines. But instead of focusing on the difficulty, this child had the incredible ability to look beyond the pain. S/he
had the maturity, the insight to know that there is much more to life than just pain of the present. This child, despite all that s/he must have been through, knows that pain, no matter how intense, won’t last, and that with time and patience pain subsides and eventually becomes manageable or even tolerable.
It is a difficult concept for anyone, even adults, to understand and accept. I am an adult and am still learning to cope every day with pain.
It has now been five years and I am still grieving the loss of a loved one. For the first few years, I was consumed by the pain and sadness of her dying. It was tortuous to see other people go happily about their daily lives while I was reminded constantly of my loss. I was angry and truly believed that there was nothing left to live for. I was severely depressed and anxious without anywhere to turn because I refused help. "No one understands. Why would they?," I told myself. "Fuck the world, fuck everyone." There were times when I screamed from the bottom of my lungs because the pain was too intense to keep inside. Then there were moments when I was so exhausted from crying that I could not pick myself up from the floor. There was a long period when I only ate candy because nothing else tasted good, the sugar the only substance that could dull the sharp edge of my intense grief. I tried watching comedies to see if I could still laugh and found that I couldn't. Everything fell apart; nothing made sense. I hated everyone with the same intensity that I loved her. I wanted so desperately just to be with her again.
Then there were the dreams, the best and the worst part of it all. We were together, healthy, laughing, talking, hugging -- I swear I could even smell her comforting scent. As soon as I felt whole again, happy again… I’d wake up only to realize that she was gone. It was tough, but I embraced those dreams for the moments they gave me with her, for their ability to let me feel her once again. And then there were the nightmares, the ones that made me so upset that I would literally jump out of bed. She was in pain, dying and non-verbal. In those nightmares I relived the last few weeks of her life on repeat. I would bawl and bawl and scream out for her.
Today, I am better. I’m not sure if there was a turning point or if I just made a decision to be happier. Maybe my tear ducts dried out and I couldn't cry anymore. Maybe she kicked my butt back to life so I wouldn’t waste it away. Whatever the reason, I can now honestly say that my pain, no matter the intensity, didn’t last. Of course, her absence pierces my soul and I miss her - no, crave her - presence every day. Mother’s Day will forever suck. It sucked that she wasn’t there on my wedding day. It sucks that she can’t be here to watch my adorable niece and nephew grow up—she would have loved it and been a fabulous grandmother. It really sucks that I can’t ask her about her youth, call her up to gossip or to learn her delicious recipes, or the countless other things that people get to do. I miss her cooking - man, do I miss her cooking! And without a doubt, I would do anything if I could bring her back. But I can’t. So instead I chose to hold on and to cope.
Coping does not mean "moving on" from her passing. It means carrying her forward with me as I move through my life, always with her ever-present guidance and love. It means being comforted in the knowledge and hope that one day we will be reunited. Because with the people you love the most, there is no goodbye. There is only see you later.
Meet the author! (Furreal. She's fantastic!)
Day Job: Pediatric medical social worker
Dream Job: World traveling photographer
If I Had a Million Dollars: Adopt all the dogs in the world and build a house near water and mountains
What I Wish Everyone Knew: Just be kind, everyone is fighting a battle
What I Want: To cure cancer
What Holds Me Back: Discomfort
What Motivates Me: Making Her Proud
What I'd Like to Let Go: Anxiety
What I'd Like to Keep: Patience
Biggest Fear: Losing a loved one
God Is: What you want her to be
Prayer Is: Meditation
What is Sacred: Time
Quote of the Day: “Just hold on. Pain won’t last.”
Current Book Obsession: Lifelong book obsession, Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl