The prep for the weekly Hump Day Short was back on track Wednesday morning after the school drop-off. Just before I put pen to paper, or rather fingers to keyboard, I checked my email only to find that a good friend had died earlier that morning. We had been acquaintances for eight years as my younger boys followed the same trail as her older boys through the same school then through the same scout troop. A couple years ago, we bumped into each other in the library on a winter day. Having not seen her for a few months, her missing eyebrows just below her knitted cap prompted my direct question, "What's going on?" And her reply, "I'm going through what you did. Do you have time for coffee?"
Through our many shared mocha lattes over the last couple years, I discovered that she also grew up in the Midwest, Minnesota, and our conversations felt like those around Mom's kitchen table. We rarely went in-depth over that two-word beast, breast cancer; with two women raised on black Midwestern dirt we took one day at a time. We talked about the immediate plan for treatment, the thing most controllable. But mostly we talked about family - near and far, our lives in our community, and the weather - as most Midwesterners do. Her no-nonsensical approach to life was like a breath of fresh air blown in from the plains. She kept on a steady keel with few complaints. All who crossed her path professionally and within the community will feel an unfillable emptiness at the table - as I will across a small coffee table. God gained a great angel; earth lost an amazing woman.
As much as I turn this loss around in my head, I have no fresh words but rather fall back to these...
“How long will it hurt?" Will was around seven when he asked that question. It was after a skinned knee or elbow. I don’t remember the wound – only those words. And the insistence that I just tell him how long. The begging.
Wouldn’t it be a great feat to look at a watch or a calendar and mark the end time or date? How much more manageable pain would be if we had that ability.
Instead, the time of intense pain puts us in a different continuum, bare of minutes and hours and outside the realm of normal. How can there be a normal anywhere when the here and now is filled with this much pain? Must the birds sing this morning? How can the sun reflect onto clouds and hand us the most glorious sunset?
If we could only answer that question. How long will it hurt? How much farther from today will a footstep out of bed be the first one back to the patter of life before that ensconcing pain? As much as it may seem to be a perverse punch to the gut, the fact that life continues around us gives a sense of comfort when that first return step into "normal" is made.
The uncertainty of pain exhausts. The unknown when and where and how forces us to live in the moment. Moment after moment. Living normal life on skates, that slowness induced by pain feels unnatural. Living in the moment and letting go of the control we look for in daily life – another layer of pain.
Concentric circles of pain fall around the person at the center of it. Whether an unwelcome diagnosis or an unexpected illness, an equal but different intense pain emanates from the center of that pinwheel to the first closest circle; the ones who would do or give anything to make that pain disappear but who can only comfort and support the person fighting the fight.
And with our woven friendships and acquaintances, the circles continue to increase in number. And in those outer circles, we want the same for the inner circles: for the pain to subsist. To find that answer to “How long will it hurt?” All of us have been in those tight inner circles, asking the same question. And, if there was any way we could, we would answer that question to alleviate some of your pain.
Instead, it remains the unanswered question, and often times, all we can do is let you know that a piece of our heart is with you every day...
Whether you are a good-vibes or praying type of person, or both, please whisper Marietta's name today, as well as anyone else's who may find themselves in a circle asking, "How long will it hurt?"