Sad Things - Carrie Roark
It has been a sad time for me and my family. And sad things are on my mind. My oldest sister, just 56 years old, contracted pancreatic cancer out of the blue. She went from feeling fine to being completely invalid and needing round the clock care in about 5 weeks. The progression of the disease was shocking, even to the doctors. They said they had not seen such a severe case before. By the time they found it, the cancer had spread to surrounding organs and had so decimated the liver that there was nothing they could do. In fact, jaundice was one of the first symptoms she noticed. The girl was yellow like an extra in a sci-fi movie. The marker they track in the blood for that is called bilirubin. Her bilirubin levels were the highest her doctors had ever seen even after putting two stints in her liver to improve drainage. Without a functioning liver, chemo would not be effective. There was nothing they could do to stop the tumor growth or kill any existing tumors. Basically, without using so many words, their disease plan was to prepare for death. “Get your affairs in order” and “I”m so, so sorry,” were their words. This sweet, kind-hearted, vibrant woman was dying, and fast. How fast? They wouldn’t speculate. All they would say is, “It won’t be long.”
For those of us around her, our lives were put on hold. We were at her side whether in the hospital or at her home. It was exhausting, but it was so hard to leave her. She hated how much it impacted us, and though her body was failing, her prominent thought was to protect us. We watched, helplessly, while her condition diminished. Just. torture. We were desperate. We were heart-broken. And we were so, so sad.
About seven weeks after diagnosis, she was home on hospice and slipped into the end-of-life coma. The nurses told us it would be mere hours. So we all gathered to be there at the precious moment when she would pass. But she held on another day and another day. We filed in and said good-bye and gave her permission to move on. We waited. We prayed. We waited. We said good-bye again. Our lives were trapped in a single moment in time. We were unable to leave or participate in normal life. Our only choice was to sit in ‘the waiting.’ It was a strange place to be because what once was coming too quickly now would not come quickly enough. Finally, after 5 days, she passed on, and I swear, there was a grin on her face. It was as if we were all set free in that moment, free to move on. She would move on to the place of joy to be with her creator and with our mother who had only been there less than 3 years. We were free to move on in our grief and to move toward healing. It is still surreal and I can’t quite believe she’s really gone.
A week later, we had a service to honor her life. It was a sweet and beautiful ceremony, and it honored her well. That morning, I couldn’t stop thinking about her oldest son who would not be at the service. He was in jail. In his mid-thirties, he has struggled with a terrible mental illness, paranoid schizophrenia. Over the decades, his disease would separate my sister from her son. She never wanted to talk about him. If you asked her if she knew where he was or how he was doing, she’d say, “I don’t want to talk about it.” It was too painful. The morning of her funeral, I thought about that loss. She had essentially lost her son, but because he was still alive, she had not ever been able to grieve the loss. So the only thing she could do was push it deep inside her. Such a sad thing. As I thought about her loss, I remembered something I had heard recently from a doctor that most disease can be attributed to unprocessed emotions. If he’s right, she is a text book example. The pain, held so deeply below the surface, insisted on being expressed in whatever way it could.
In my work as a life-coach, I often coach couples in their relationship. And the first thing I tell them is that unprocessed feelings are toxic to the relationship. It is a poison that will take them out if they don’t learn the skill of communicating their feelings well. Now I see that not only is it essential for a healthy relationship, it is essential for a healthy body as well. I tell them now, that not only is it necessary to talk about the feelings brought on within the relationship, but they must also find a safe place to process ALL the feelings that show up on their emotional landscape. From the little stuff like feeling bored at work to the great, big stuff that they may have never told anyone about before like that raped that occurred on that date in college, or the abuse they suffered as a child...it all requires expression.
What sad things hide in your psyche looking for a way to be expressed? What deep pain do you think you have forgotten but was merely pushed deep, deep down out of reach looking for escape? Let me put it this way, what physical pain do you accept as just part of your life? What illness plagues you or keeps recurring? Let me encourage you to connect some dots. Face the sad things. Feel them and share them in safe environments. Ask the Holy Spirit to protect you and strengthen you as you do so. Write in a journal or type on the computer. Talk to yourself or God when you are alone in the car. Open up to a spouse or close friend. Sometimes you may need help from a professional to guide you. A note of caution though: don’t to dwell there. Face it and tame it. Walk THROUGH it; not just into it.
I am not a medical professional, and I realize that not all doctors ascribe to this philosophy. Perhaps it is bunk. I can’t say for sure, but it is what I believe to be true. I have committed to myself to process all the feelings - the sad things, the scary things, the awesome things...ALL the things. My family is counting on me. I know I can’t prevent everything that comes my way, but you better believe, I’m going to do the things I CAN do. Your family is counting on you too. Ask God to heal you and guide you through those toxic unprocessed feelings waiting to be expressed. Think of it like an emotional cleanse. Kin to the digestive type, it will bring out some nasty crap, but it is sooooo worth it! Be whole. Be well. And be free.