Carry This Shifting
by Thelma Nienhuis
I carry the shifting in my bones.
The shortening days and open windows and the quiet ache to heat the kettle as the sun sets.
The faint pulse of seasonal change traces lines along skin and memory, reminding me of what the long winter days hold for my husband: meagre energy and ineffectual remedies and vigilant protection where possible.
My husband has lived with chronic pain and illness for more than a decade now. Nearly fifteen years of a progressive genetic condition, and each winter we find ourselves tracing the same hope: perhaps this year it won’t be so bad. Perhaps this year…
“Self-fulfilling prophecy,” someone scoffed once. As though thinking made it so. As though my preparation for winter was responsible for the persistent flare of his pain when temperatures drop and the climate keens to snow. Good vibes only, I suppose. The power of positive thinking? Sure. Maybe that works for some people (though I doubt it.)
Oh, how much would change if wishing made it so. Elimination of pain and tumors and skeletal deformities and constant fatigue and and and… if wishing made it so, my husband would be well by now. He would be whole and tall. He would reach again for the golf club and the tennis racquet, and he would enjoy the strength of his physical body doing things he loved.
There is grace when suffering lingers. When pain doesn’t mend and the bones warp and fatigue carves lines on his face. When he is pale and barely eats. Chronic life is a shared burden, and I speak of his condition in terms of ‘we’ – not to minimize his pain but to acknowledge my own. Watching love suffer is pain. Knowing seasonal change brings sorrow is pain. We carry this together.
There is grace when suffering lingers. Grace, as KJ Ramsey writes in her book This Too Shall Last, not to rescue, but to persevere. We may not be lifted out of the hard, but we are promised his presence in it.
And so I pause and hold space for the way my body and mind and heart remembers these days. I anticipate the days I will not see him and the nights where sleep will leave and pain will claw his nerves to pieces.
And I will remember how we make it through: not with good vibes or mind over matter. Not with plucky cheerfulness or stoic nonchalance. Instead, with grit-fortified grace. With lament and comfort. In utter dependence on the merciful presence of God. He is here, he has not dropped us yet. And he won’t.
I’ll take that over good vibes every day of every season.
Thelma Nienhuis has walked the broken road of life long enough to know that grief and joy hold hands. She is a wife, dog-mom, author, and seminary student, and will never say no to donuts. When she’s not writing or studying, you’ll find her snuggling three mini Australian labradoodles on the couch. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook and her website.