The problem with growing sick, being sick, is that you feel stuck in your body. You assume it's a kin to what one feels when being old. I was too young to feel so old. But you learn quickly that the truth of the matter is, you are always too young to feel...pain, illness, or age.
I'd never had so much compassion for my grandfather as I did at 34 years-old, when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. When suddenly death wasn't what scared me, but rather, the quadriplegia looming in the distance.
The day I learned death was not the worst-case-scenario is the day I lost my youth. The thought of quadriplegia consumed it. It still does.
The question "When?" follows me everywhere. It stalks me. It isolates me.
"Fuck, quadriplegia? I'd never thought of that," was my first thought at my doctor's news as I shuffled the dust with my left foot over the old green linoleum square because I still had control of it. I may have squeezed my sister's hand as well. We knew not to make eye-contact.
My second thought was, "It must suck to be my sister right now. What do you say to your little sister after that? Just don't make eye-contact. Squeeze her hand." I felt badly for her.
Every joint ached, sheets hurt to lay on my body. I had a new baby and I bet I'd never come into myself and felt as beautiful in my life, as when I turned 34. And then, I was given this disease. Suddenly, I felt my grandfather's pain; what it felt like to endure the body of a 90 year-old. We'd sit in folding lawn chairs and watch the leaves fall together.
He'd tell me what to do with the tomatoes next season when he would no longer be in his chair or on this Earth in the same way. I'd think, "He really thinks I can do that? I may not be able to move. We'll let Stacey do it." and I'd laugh to myself. He didn't get me as I got him. He was my grandfather. He didn't want me to feel what he felt.
The irony. The only blessing I could see back then was that feeling this bad allowed me to feel for him. For him, however, the only blessing he asked for was that I know no pain like his.
He was brave. He was a good faker. But I am good at calling people out on their fears and feelings. I am good at prayers and holding hands. I saw through it because I felt it.
Being sick almost made me an empath, especially to him. I felt his skin so well it was almost exhausting to be near him. When you love and feel all the way through, it zaps you of any strength you might have had. And I was already exhausted.
In some way, you are grateful to feel so close to your grandfather, like I knew a secret of passing that only the elderly get to know. I was a bridge to generations I never met. Not many younger generations get to hold the hand of their grandparents and FEEL what they feel.
BUT, at 34, you also feel like you know too much. It's a curse as well. I shouldn't know what it feels like to be 90. Not in body. I have always been an old soul.
But I felt gratitude that I got a piece of my grandfather in the most significant way while he was alive. I was able to understand his anxieties - constantly questioning every feeling and nuance of the broken body. I was able to squeeze his hand and tell him he wasn't alone. I could lend him some peace.
I am grateful for that...but the problem, or tragedy of being sick is much like the tragedy of growing old. Oscar Wilde nailed it when it came to talking about the tragedy of it all.
In Oscar Wilde's words, "The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young."
I feel young in soo many ways. But my body doesn't. If your spirit is true, and alive and well, you will encounter the same thing. It feels so wrong to feel so young in a body that is considered expired. Maybe that's why I have never noticed my partner age. Every new wrinkle that our children point out in "old" pictures, was never seen by me because we play together, we laugh, we question, we love, we still get naked.
We do all the things that young people do, but better. EXCEPT for the pain. Well maybe we do do that better - I FEEL it more. I feel it better. I also can endure more than I ever thought I could.
I'm realizing something now. It hit me after Oscar's quote did. It's almost like I felt my grandfather deserved to feel old and I didn't. I was too young, numerically, to get it entirely. There is so much fault in that thought. I realize now at 41 that he felt as young as I did. He felt as thirty-four as I was.
We both felt too young to be so close to the end of life as we knew it. You will always feel to young to age.
I hear him all the time now that he's gone, squeezing my hand in the way I did when he was here. Every ache and joint that creeks is a whisper from him; him pulling up a chair and talking about how to grow tomatoes. He's talking me through the tragedy - trying to distract me from the things that threaten to make us old.
He doesn't want me to be a tragedy.
There's no tragedy in death, in passing...only in feeling old while on this planet, losing your child-like spirit at any age.Acknowledge the pain, but find your "tomatoes" your "garden"...tend to your passions, nurture them like he did, even on his way out, by telling us the right way to tend to his garden.
May you always be sprite-like, and if you feel pain may you let it connect you to someone who is alone. And may your garden always grow.