Friday, June 12, 2009

Families and pain

What do we live for, if not to make the world less difficult for each other? - George Eliot

So much has been written about caregiver support and the stress of caring for someone who has a disability or illness. I am thankful to have a supportive family. My mom will drop everything to help me when the jaw and face pain is so terrible. She did the same thing when I was having pain from trigeminal neuralgia. Life would be so much more difficult without her, my husband, and my daughter.

It is not unusual for us to hear about the toll that an illness takes on a family, but I want to look at this from another angle. Let's think about the stress - stress that triggers more pain - that can arise from family situations. So many of my friends still have children in their teens or away at college. The process of individuation causes stress not only for the child who is anxious to leave childhood behind but also for the parents and siblings.

We hear so often that trigeminal neuralgia is a disorder that normally occurs at or after the age 50. Yet I hear more and more younger people with it, especially mothers with children at home. These mothers are charged with caring for their children, but this tremendous pain is difficult to understand. Consider how difficult it is for most teens to put themselves in their parents shoes. Is it possible for a teen to have empathy for a parent who has a mysterious and totally debilitating pain? I think it is possible. We all want to have our needs met, but what happens when the mother or father's needs have become so great?

Communication is the key to learning how to meet one another's needs. This issue is also at the core of successfully navigating through the individuation process. Growing up isn't easy, but having pain isn't easy either. Parentification occurs when children take on too much responsibility for meeting their parents needs. It can rob childhood.

Loss caused by pain not only affects the individuals who have but also has a great impact on those who love the person who has the disability. Discuss needs that have been created by disability as well as needs that are no longer being met. It can lead to a greater understanding of one another and acceptance of the changes. Solutions arise when people determine to find them, when they advocate for the family member who is ill and when they look for constructive ways to meet their own needs.  

There are no easy answers, but I really believe that love covers a multitude of sins. Speak love, even if it has to be written or put into a text message. Love is what I live for. It is stronger than pain.

How has love helped you through an illness?

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