That night, despite the relief from the osteopath, I don’t sleep. I know that I have to be on form to look after our son and be there for my husband the next day. I have to try a different tack. I think back to how I used to deal with the pain before the responsibility of jobs and parenthood. I’d relax with friends, sometimes with a drink, sometimes a smoke, but really it was the deep sense of friendship that helped me relax and allowed me to sleep. How to conjure up that sense on my own. I head downstairs and open up my laptop and put on some music. I choose carefully, uplifting tunes with lyrics that appeal to a sense of grace, a growth of love. Neil Diamond’s “Pretty Amazing Grace”, Jeff Buckley’s “Hallejuah”. I begin to compile a playlist. I sing along, letting my body sway to the music. As dawn breaks I sneak back to bed and drift off for an hour or so before my son awakes.
I may be severely lacking in sleep but I feel so grateful, so elated, so free. That sense of love and grace from the tunes has pervaded my body. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t slept, that my head still aches, for a while the pain and fatigue have been transcended, without drugs or drink, but rather with a feeling of compassion for myself, of love, of grace and joy. Oh boy do I need more of that feeling.
My husband calls. He wonders if it’s appropriate for Theo to visit. He’s been put in a ward with elderly people. Some of the sounds and sights are quite distressing. The man beside him had passed away in the night. His daughter had popped out and was distraught to have missed his passing. My husband had hugged and comforted her, telling her his passing had been peaceful. It’s beautiful. To be able to bring such comfort to a stranger at such a poignant time. Both Tim and I feel deeply humbled by the experience. Another man is very distressed and crying over his relationship with his estranged daughter. She lives overseas and they haven’t spoken in years. A kindly nurse is encouraging him to write to her.
Theo and I take a taxi to hospital and gingerly make our way up to the ward. Tim’s bed is at the far end by the window. Some patients are sitting up, others sleeping. One man is grunting and groaning in pain. My husband, in his 40s, must be the youngest by at least three decades. The man opposite him is being spoon-fed by his wife. Theo sees his Dad and runs over to greet him. He looks grey and exhausted but happy to see us. We hug and he talks us through the extreme pain of the spinal tap, the other various tests he’s had and the ones to come. I take out the plump farm fresh strawberries we brought and pass them round to the others in the ward. My husband’s new neighbour is a retired greengrocer with a glint of cheekiness in his eye. He remarks on how our visit has lit Tim up. As the sun streams through the window, I see how our five year old boy, so full of innocence and joy can spread love and warmth to all those around. I share a few words with the lady spoon-feeding her husband. I see the love and hope in her eyes as she gently attempts to coax the food into his mouth. Again I feel humbled by the sight. I’m so glad we came into the ward. We pop out to the canteen for a cup of tea, Tim leaning on my arm for support. Before long I see the greyness come back into Tim’s face and I help him back into his bed. He’s ready for us to leave.
As the days unfold Tim strikes up a relationship with the others on the ward. He’s the baby of course, and is teased for this. But I know his lightness, his easy manner is an asset to that small group of souls, so many at the end stage of their lives. The doctors haven’t found anything but he’s still unable to stand without swaying and he has a huge headache, partly a side effect of the spinal tap. He has a complicated medical history and is on the case load of both a cardiologist consultant and neurological consultant. We feel pleased that many possible causes are being investigated. By the sixth day he asks if he can continue these investigations as an outpatient, and he’s allowed home. Tears well in the eyes of the lady opposite as we say goodbye. Her husband still isn’t eating. She knows he’s near the end. Tim enfolds her in one of his big hugs, and I watch her melt a little. The greengrocer keeps up his cheery banter as we share out the remaining fresh fruit from beside Tim’s bed with those we leave behind. Tim leans on my arm as I help him out, Theo holding my other hand.
The next day Tim is exhausted and rests on the sofa. He finds it excruciatingly painful to lift his head. We’re due to go on holiday the following day, our first two week holiday together in nearly four years. There’s no way he’ll manage the plane journey to Spain. I change our flights for a few days later, contact the B&B in Spain we’d planned to stay at and explain the situation. Though we had both been so looking forward to the respite of a longer than usual break, it doesn’t matter that we miss the first few days. Those days of reflection as Tim lies on the sofa after his hospital visit are restorative for us both and richer than any holiday.
And my pain? Oh I still have it. The intensity has eased a little but I still feel fragile and achy and am not sleeping well. But something has changed. I reflect that my usual tactic of distracting myself from my pain by becoming busy does not help to loosen the grip the pain has over me. Rather it’s a sense of relaxing into the vibes of grace and love that really brings relief. It’s a similar deeply humbling nature of grace and love that we both felt through our hospital experience. Similar too is the vibe I’m blessed with during my morning spiritual exercises, when I truly connect. A vibe that softens me inside and links me to the only true provider of balm. My heart fills with gratitude as I turn in and give thanks to that teacher inside of me. I see with more clarity than ever that to truly live within that vibe of love and grace is really my only desire. And I know that to do that, every physical and emotional pain and woe that I carry, every urge and need of my ego will have to be released.
Three days later we cross the departures lounge in Stansted Airport. One of my arms supports Tim who’s struggling to walk. He wears a huge sombrero to protect him from the dizzying effect of the airport lights and steadies himself on the wall on the other side. My other arm pulls our hand luggage, with our son gleefully riding his Gruffalo Trunki. It’s slow progress, and Tim is exhausted as he collapses into a seat for some breakfast before the flight.
To an observer it may not seem like the ideal start to a summer holiday. The travails of the past ten days have brought us both to our knees. We are leached of energy on all fronts, our physical bodies still ailing from our separate challenges. Our plans of travel and adventure in Spain have been scuppered. Yet I know that for me, for us, this moment, and all that has led up to it, is just perfect. Through the veils of my own pain and the humbling nature of seeing the pain of others, I’ve been gifted with a deeper connection to love and grace. Gifted with a greater urge to go inwards and link to that teacher inside of me, that strong vibration of love which has carried me through. Gifted with the knowledge that this deep connection is all that I need.
In place of the active holiday we’d envisaged, we now share a deep need to be still, to deeply relax whilst embracing Theo’s natural sense of play…….and to recharge. A softer, more gentle vibe of tenderness and compassion envelops the three of us. We share a smile, and I feel blessed.
P.S. If you enjoyed reading this post, I’d so love it if you left a comment to share what resonated with you (or didn’t) and/ or any experience of your own inspired by this essay. Thank you!