I had a friend, a good one, who became very, very ill. She was one of the first people I knew well who had cancer, and her battle was long and hard—and scary for those of us who loved her. And many of us DID love her—she was kind,and gentle,and good.
One of the people who loved her most was, of course, her husband. Throughout those long, gray months he was with her always—supporting her in every way possible. He cut back on his work hours so he could be there for her when she had to go to the treatment center for chemotherapy. He ran interference with well-meaning friends and relatives. He ran the household and cared for their two almost-adult children.
Gradually, she regained strength and became well again. We were pleased to see her smile and hear her welcoming voice and listen to her music. She went back to work, and visited with friends, and organized a wedding for her son—things were back to ‘normal’, the danger was passed.
Well, sort of. Remember the wonderful husband? It was he who became listless and lethargic, depressed and sad. He seemed unable to get back in the groove, to organize his days into productivity, to enjoy some of the pleasures he had once loved, like bass fishing and good cigars and puttering around the house. As his wife grew stronger, he seemed to diminish, to feel un-needed perhaps and without meaning.
He came out of it after a while, and again became the warm and loving person we all had known. But I’ve been thinking of those days a lot recently, because I think I know how he felt back then. An illness gives meaning to one’s life, it is the battle to be fought and the priority that claims focus and energy. Once the healing begins and the threat recedes, so too does the fight and the sense of purpose that characterized our waking hours.
It’s the same phenomena I have often watched in AA over the years. As the alcoholic begins her recovery, and becomes stronger and more at peace with herself, she finds those around her begin to disappear. They have defined their relationship with the alcoholic by the disease and once progress has been made toward health, friends and loved ones must redefine their roles.
I think that’s not far from what I am feeling right now: all these months I centered much of my energy on my health issues—on fighting pain, getting medical treatment, paying bills, trying to maintain a quality of life despite the onslaught of some frightening moments. And now, at last, I am on the downhill side of the mountain and the path is easier. But now, I am in charge. Every day I find the challenge comes in proactive living, not reactive living. And it’s not easy.
And so I make lists of what I want to do each day. And I construct some visions of myself as a well person, walking the beach in Tarpum Bay and easily climbing the stairs to my bedroom overlooking the sea. I realize that for the first time in many, many years I don’t have a job which carves out my time, and I don’t have medicines, doctors, aches, and wounds. I am regaining my health, my energy, and my time. It’s a new feeling, but—as Kermit would say—“it isn’t easy being green.”