A gale-force wind rattled outside as I watched Heather lying on the bed.
Exhausted. Spent. Tired down to her toes.
On her, it looked absolutely beautiful.
Mind you, I’m not the sort of husband who takes an unholy glee in seeing his wife drained to the last battery. But I knew what her last three days had been like. An all-day trip to Colorado Springs, an all-night visit by her two grade-school sisters, a dinner trip to Northglenn with them and her father – it had been just about non-stop for 72 hours.
For her to be tired, and only tired, after all that was nothing short of a miracle.
As regular readers may know, Heather has just a few health problems. Which is by way of saying the Titanic had a minor leak. And the two biggest icebergs in a crowded sea have been her Crohn’s disease – a charming condition of the guts that an Occupier wouldn’t wish on a Wall Street CEO – and ankylosing spondylitis, a highly painful condition that hits the back, the hip, the shoulder and the neck in an attempt to fuse any or all of them.
The two have waxed and waned over the years, turning life into a minefield. On one memorable occasion, I came home to find her crawling toward the bathroom – walking was simply too agonizing without help. On another, I had to improvise a bed for her in the back of our car so we could make a cross-state trip home that neither of us wanted to cancel.
“I knew you really loved me when you held back my hair while I was throwing up,” she told me once with a smile.
But the hardest parts were the windows of clear weather among the storms. At heart, Heather is a doer. And when her body would calm down for the slightest moment, she would get busy, fitting as much activity into the time as possible – and invariably put herself in bed for the next two or three days, saying “Why did I do that?”
That’s life with chronic pain. You ride the waves, even as you watch fatigued, well-wishing friends struggle with the fact that this isn’t the sort of thing you get better from.
But somewhere along the line, something changed.
It started with a new medicine, the kind with a price tag that suggests diamonds, gold dust and velociraptor DNA were used in its construction. Slowly but surely it pried the window open a little further, enough to hope … and enough to hope to help.
Hope can be a powerful catalyst. And the more Heather could do, the more she could hope to do – never completely consequence-free, but always enough to keep the next step of the ladder in reach. When it came time to become a guardian for her developmentally-disabled 38-year-old aunt Missy, she never hesitated. And that ability to help someone else as she had been helped just pushed the “hope cycle” even higher.
She still has pain days. Sometimes very bad ones. But now, mixed with them, are the days of mere exhaustion, the after-effects of a time well spent. To be able to work hard enough that you’re tired from it.
It’s an odd blessing to name. But a true one.
I don’t know how long this turn of the roller coaster will last. All we can do is ride. I suspect that’s all any of us can do, holding out with as much patience and faith and endurance as we can until the next chance to climb higher comes.
For now, it’s just nice to know that “sick and tired” doesn’t have to be redundant. That to be tired can mean to be well, or at least well enough to truly live.
Sleep on it a bit.
I know Heather has.