By Ellen Lenox Smith.
As much as I love the atmosphere of the holiday, including the return of our family to the family farm they grew up on and the joy of being all together, there is always a piece of sadness that I have to try to talk away from my emotions. The holidays are times of being with close family and friends, so when one is no longer with us, the holiday also brings those losses back to light. Does this happen with you too?
I feel weird that I can be so thrilled to have our now adult sons return home with their wives and children and even pets, but daily, my mom and dad, for instance, are in my heart too. I lost them both within three months of each other back in 2005, yet I still feel that void when we get closer to the special celebration. I suppose it is healthy to go through this process, for it reminds you how lucky you were for the good you had in your relationships. But that cloud that can hang over your head, at times, needs to be recognized and addressed to be able to truly enjoy the warmth, love and sometimes chaos that the holidays bring.
So, what can we do to ward off those emotions? For those of us also living with chronic pain, maybe the heartache is even more intense. Whether it is a lost parent, friend, neighbor or co-worker, people that have had an impact on our lives tend to come into our memories as these holidays come up. If we can take those memories, honor them and recognize the feeling of loss, then we tend to ease away in time from these emotions reemerging.
The hardest for me has been the loss of my parents. I adored them both and valued that they truly believed that there was something medically wrong with me long before anyone else in my life, except my husband. Despite being many miles apart, they called, asked and supported the roller coaster ride of confusion, addressed my in proper diagnosis, chronic pain, and judgement I was receiving from others. Before they passed, I was finally vindicated with two real, incurable diagnosis, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Sarcoidosis. While others left me by the wayside, they were always there for me, no matter what. But they are gone and life must go on.
But I hold on to what I learned from them, always. At one time, when mom was near death and in a comatose state for over five days, she brought herself out of it for a brief moment, shocking me, to ask me:
#1, Was she was dying?
#2, Could I live without her?
I consider that moment to be a gift I carry with me at all times. To think the human body is able to fight that stage, to say what she needed to say to me before feeling free for passing, is amazing and something I will always treasure.
And for Dad, a man that was handed cigarettes for free upon entering the Navy in WWII, and becoming addicted, his life had a very painful ending. However, he always continued to care about others, and not pity himself. He lived life the best he could, despite all he faced with cancer that attacked his body in all forms - prostate, lung, kidney and then bone that took his life after seventeen months of progression. One of the many gifts he gave me was to still care about others, smile and still find the good in life and people despite the suffering. He achieved this up until his last breath. I try so hard to emulate this, thanks to his model.
As I age now, I have one huge apology that I would want to say to my parents: “I am sorry I didn’t better recognize how difficult aging is. I want them to know that I respect, even more now with aging, how gracefully they took the challenge on.” Life is not an easy road to go down. Some of us are lucky to be able to share a good childhood and adulthood while others have a tough go from the beginning. Whichever one is you, we all still have to move on and live the life we have been given.
As the holidays come and go and these emotions enter again, like the years before, I hope I can wrap them up for another season and go back to living life, remembering the past fond memories by honoring those that took the time to care about me and help mold who I am today.
May Life Be Kind to you,
Ellen Lenox Smith
Author of: It Hurts Like Hell!: I Live With Pain- And Have a Good Life, Anyway, and My Life as a Service Dog!
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report.
Ellen Lenox Smith and her husband Stuart live in Rhode Island. They are co-directors for medical cannabis advocacy for the U.S. Pain Foundation, along with Ellen on the board and they both also serve as board members for the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition. For more information about medical cannabis visit their website. https://ellenandstuartsmith.squarespace.com/