There are no safe guards in this life.
Just because someone suffers from lupus, doesn’t mean they can’t get diagnosed with appendicitis.
Last week my mum who has type 1 diabetes and multiple chronic illnesses was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
It’s not fair.
And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be.
I’m going to try not to make this post a mere outpouring of my raw emotions, because that is neither helpful for others, nor in line with the tradition of this blog.
That said, such a diagnosis WILL impact my writing, and it’s not something I can keep quiet about. Partly because it’s real and leaking into every corner of my life, and partly because I hold out the hope that my reflections might help others going through similar trials.
At the moment I’m in the numb stage.
It sort of doesn’t seem real. How can this be happening to my own mum?
Wait! I feel numb!
It’s okay to feel numb
One thing I’ve realised is that numb doesn’t mean you don’t care. I find tears obscuring my vision at odd hours, I feel a deep sad feeling in my chest at times. The fact that I’m not throwing things in rage and wailing does not mean I’m not grieving.
I’ve never found the “five stages” of grief particularly helpful, and at the moment it’s easy to look at them and equate my numbness with denial. And yet, I don’t think I am in denial. I work in the medical field. I know what the outcomes of pancreatic cancer are. I know the surgeries they do, and (thanks to google) how frequently they are performed and the statistical outcomes.
The reality is, that at the moment I feel numb – but that doesn’t mean I’m ignoring reality, and it doesn’t mean I’m a callous daughter. People might see me laughing and think I don’t care, but the truth is, there is no correct way to express grief.
I have to remind myself of these things often. Numb doesn’t mean I’m running away, numb doesn’t make me a coward.
Numb makes me human.
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Feeling numb doesn’t last forever
Nothing lasts forever, not really. The first cracks in my numbness came when I had to inform the people at my work and ask for days off. With every person afterwards that I told, the cracks widened. When a dear friend replied to an email I had sent I cried semi-‘properly’ for the first time. And I was thankful.
Not because I enjoy crying, but because I know it’s healthy.
Yet at the same time, there’s no time schedule. We’re all different. Sometimes we go from numb to feeling and then back to numb again. Sometimes we might cry after a week or a day or six months. That’s okay, but know this:
Nothing lasts forever and this present numbness won’t either. I don’t know if this reassurance is a blessing or a curse to you – I have to admit, I don’t know what it is to me.
Even as I know that numbness is okay, I know that the cracks in my numbness are okay too. However frequent or irregular they are. However my grief is expressed.
Numbness is not a permanent state, and that’s a relief.
“There’s no time schedule for numbness. We’re all different.”
Numb can be helpful
I don’t think I would be able to write this post if I wasn’t feeling a bit numb at the moment. Numbness can be a gift.
Feeling numb can be a period of grace before the whirlwind emotions. This numbness has helped me look at things slightly objectively. It is helping me make decisions and look at the future.
There are a few things I want to have in place before I descend into emotions and busyness and simply surviving – and this numbness lets me do that.
While I am numb I want to make a list of non-negotiables, because I know from the past that they help for me.
I’m not talking about New Year’s resolutions, but a list of things to stick by, when I don’t have the brain space to think. This list is flexible and negotiable and open to error and criticism, but all the same I’d like to:
When my mind is occupied and there’s a huge visible mountain to climb up, I tend to absentmindedly forget that other mountains are important as well. Things like driving safely, getting enough sleep and eating regularly can shrink into insignificance.
So I need to make a conscientious effort to do them. Why? Because my life is not my own but God’s. These things are good for me. I can’t be there for others if I’m not there.
As a friend once told me, “you having a car accident isn’t actually going to help anything.” How true he was.
Turn to God:
My first inclination is to flee into books and the internet and my thoughts. Distraction, distraction, distraction! My kitchen floor has never been so clean! And while these things can be helpful and God-given, they are not God.
Only God can be my Saviour, and so I want to make turning to Him both a habit and a necessity, even when I don’t feel like it.
When I am suffering, or people I love are suffering, I find it easy to despise the suffering of other people. I find it easy to skimp on relationships or flee from community.
While the reality is I’m not going to have as much time or energy to invest in friendships when something this big is happening, I can’t dismiss them altogether.
That’s neither helpful for me, nor part of God’s plan for my life.
And so my prayer is that this diagnosis will be a catalyst for me to be able to love others even more than before, because I can relate better to their suffering. I can’t do much for mum save pray, but maybe I can do things for others, and put my desire for practical love into use this way.
Numbness can be a force for good.
Chronic illness and Cancer
I never, ever thought my mum would be diagnosed with cancer. I thought that was one illness she had ‘dodged’.
It doesn’t seem fair that she should be given this burden to carry. I’m terrified of watching someone I love suffer once more.
Yet I know this: I don’t suffer alone. I don’t wince at unfairness alone. I don’t feel numbness alone.
In all these things I join in the ranks of countless others who have suffered and suffer and will suffer in similar ways – but most of all, I join in the life of my God. He watched His son suffer unfairly, and knows exactly what it’s like. More importantly, He goes on before me.
I am not alone. Even in my numbness I can know this, even if I can’t feel it.
// What about you? Have you ever felt numb? What did you do?
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