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"That's What Friends Are For"...Girlfriends - Finding the Healing Gifts of Grace in Our Pain
This essay was excerpted from Cindy’s La Ferle’s newest essay collection, Writing Home (Hearth Stone Books; 2005), available in bookstores nationwide and on amazon.com. La Ferle is a nationally published essayist and newspaper columnist based in Royal Oak, Michigan. Visit her Web site: Cindy’s Home Office: www.laferle.com
Finding the Healing Gifts of Grace in Our Pain
Five years ago, when I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both hips, I read everything I could find about coping with chronic illness. And I was amazed at how often I’d stumble on a paragraph that advised patients to “look for the gift in your pain.”
Pain is a gift? Thanks, but no thanks, I’d mutter to myself. I’d just turned 44 and hadn’t planned on slowing down so soon. I still had miles to go with my journalism career and a family, which included a busy young teen-ager. If pain was my gift, well, where was the return policy?
Within a year of my diagnosis, the disease progressed so quickly that total hip replacement surgery was my only option. (At that point I was unable to walk without assistive devices.) Even on a good day, it hurt so much to crawl out of bed that I refused to unplug my heating pad and leave the house. Suddenly I was disabled – and even qualified for a “handicapped” parking permit.
Having been fit and active most of my adult life, I was way too proud to let others watch me struggle on a walker. I hated to appear needy. Working from home, I started canceling my lunch dates and appointments, and tried to hide behind a steely mask of self-sufficiency.
But my closest friends and family members didn’t buy any of it. And it was through their patience and love that I finally discovered the “gift” in chronic illness: It slowly unravels your pride and opens you to the boundless generosity of other people.
“Surrender is no small feat in a culture that applauds the strong, the independent, and the self-sufficient,” writes Victorian Moran in “Creating A Charmed Life: Sensible Spiritual Secrets Every Busy Woman Should Know” (HarperSanFrancisco; $12). “That heroic stuff is fine when the problem is something we can handle through our own self-sufficiency. But nobody climbs a mountain alone.”
Of course, stubborn self-reliance isn’t the sole province of the disabled.
Most women I know pride themselves on being nurturers, fixers, problem-solvers, givers. We’ll supply all the brownies for the bake sale at school after we’ve organized the rummage sale at church. We’ll rearrange our schedules to baby-sit other people’s kids. Just ask, and we’ll triple our workload at the office and still make it to the 7 p.m. PTA meeting.
Yet some of us would rather have a wisdom tooth pulled than ask somebody else for a favor when we need it. As a girlfriend told me recently, “It’s my job to be the glue that holds everyone and everything together. I can’t ask for help.”
But the truth is, people who care about us really do want to help -- if only we’d drop the mask of total self-sufficiency and admit that we’re not all-powerful all the time.
Later, while recovering in bed from my hip surgeries, I had no choice but to graciously accept support from my family and friends. When my husband processed mountains of laundry at home, I tried not to feel guilty. When our neighbors sent casseroles or offered to drive my carpool shift to school, I swallowed my pride and allowed their care to work like a healing balm. And it did.
As hard as it was to surrender, I discovered there’s strength in vulnerability.
Deep down, I still believe it’s more blessed to give than to receive. And I still believe that putting the needs of others first isn’t such a bad precept to live by -- unless it renders you incapable of accepting a favor or asking for help when you really need it.
After all, nobody climbs their mountain alone.