From Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul

Mourning the Loss, Mending the

Love cures people, both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.

Dr. Karl Menninger

When I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in my fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and feet three years ago, my first reaction was shock and denial. I had always been so active—hyperactive actually— and involved in everything! I kept wondering if the doctor might not be wrong about the diagnosis. I also hid my symptoms, even from my family. I guess I thought that if I didn’t acknowledge to anyone how much pain I was experiencing, it wouldn’t be as bad. I’m sure it was also difficult for me to admit to others that I had a debilitating disease. After all, everyone would see me differently, wouldn’t they? I felt I would be less of a person than I had been before if everyone knew.

I went through months of being the “little trouper” with my husband Chuck, coworkers and two sons, Kevin and Keith. Every time I was asked how I was, my answer was always “fine” or “okay.” I didn’t realize that my masking of pain and sickness was only preventing me from receiving the support I so desperately needed. Everyone assumed I was really “fine” or “okay,” because I said so.

Eventually, my husband began to realize what I was doing. He came to me one evening as I was sitting in the TV room and asked if he could talk to me. I agreed and turned off the television. He knelt down on his knees in front of me. I immediately wondered what on earth he was doing! Several times throughout our marriage he has pretended to have some serious news for me, saying, “I just don’t know how to tell you this,” and once he knew he had me worried he would say, “Just wanted you to know I love you.” One of my famous punches to his chest would always follow! This time, he remained serious. “I understand that you have been going through a tremendous amount of pain and have been having problems coping with all the changes that are happening because of the new physical limitations you have,” he said. “Please don’t shut me out any longer. I want to go through this experience with you because you are my wife, I love you and I don’t want you to feel like you have to handle this alone.”

Then the sweetest, most precious moment came, one that I will treasure all of my life. He asked me whether it would be all right if he mourned my loss. At this point, I was still feeling a little unsure of what he was up to, but I agreed it would be okay.

He began to cry and held my swollen, tender hands in his as he expressed to me how sorry he felt that I could no longer hold a telephone very long at work and now had to use a headset, and I had to use a cane to walk sometimes, and the Methotrexate shot I received every Friday made me so sick to my stomach that I was ill every weekend. I had to resign as the worship leader and choir director at our church because I was so fatigued and it was painful to sing. As he sincerely mourned all those losses, and others, his teardrops began to fall on my hands. Suddenly, a flood of tears burst forth from the inner depths of my soul and we held each other as we both sobbed.

Later, I began to open up to him about everything that I had been keeping to myself for so long. I felt so light and happy, and I no longer felt so isolated. He told me that he never wanted to hear “fine” or “okay” again, unless it was really true. We decided to use the pain scale that I use with my rheumatologist, zero to ten, ten being the worst pain, to communicate how I’m doing.

In the past year, I’ve been using some of the new RA drugs and am doing much better. I can walk farther, rarely need the cane and the pain is much more manageable. There are even days when I have no pain at all! But through the past three years, my husband has greatly surpassed the level of support, understanding and frequent nursing that I could have imagined! When I flare up so badly that I have to stay in bed for a week, he prepares my meals (many from his hip pocket), gives me lots of hugs, brings me the heating pad, water to drink, medicines, magazines or books to read, takes time away from his business to drive me to the doctor thirty miles away to get cortisone shots, whatever I need.

We’ve purchased a wheelchair to use for activities that require quite a bit of walking, such as shopping or touring Yellowstone Park. He has never once made me feel like I am a burden or that he resents the extra household duties he has had to take on.

Because of his support and encouragement (and the great working relationship I have with my rheumatologist), I am still working full time as a legal administrator for a local law firm. Chuck had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee last summer and I was able to do things for him for a change, and that felt great!

Our marriage has bonded even more deeply because this is our problem—not just mine. I thank God for giving me this wonderful man.

Sandy Wallace

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