Contest entry. Losing a love one.
|The Missing Arm
It’s like losing your right arm in battle. Bam! Off it comes. It bleeds. It causes pain, and you suffer. Hard to believe it isn’t fatal. That’s what it’s like when a loved one dies and leaves you all alone. It removes an "i" from your Ident"i"ty and you feel incomplete without it.
Five months, six, maybe more—each heals in their own time—the physical pain goes away slowly as the arm covers in unsightly scabs. You learn to protect it, to avoid shut doors and endless poking. You stay away from those who stay away from you. You don’t go to couples parties. You cover your wound and take your medicine like a good girl, smile in public, cry in your pillow. It’s all right. Tears help reduce the swelling. But physical pain soon reverts to mental pain as you cannot believe that you must live without that arm. What will I do? How will I do it? At every turn of the day, the appendage that was but is no longer makes you feel clumsy and inept. You want it back!
Eight months to twelve you’ve learned new tricks. How to open doors for yourself: how to bake one less birthday cake, how to sing Ave Maria silently at midnight mass. It’s okay. You won’t disappoint your children because you came alone to your grandchild’s christening. They don’t love you less because you are one arm short. They won’t understand but they will love you all the more for your endurance. In time they and your true friends will embrace the new woman that is emerging.
Don’t panic when that first year anniversary creeps up on you. You might experience shortness of breath, sudden tears, night sweats—many do—of anticipation, traumatic stress symptoms that any good soldier experiences a time or two after a tremendous loss. Let that day come, the whole day. There will be new tenderness in that place where your arm used to be, a phantom pain that cries out from the darkness but drifts back into the reality of consciousness again and again, each time less painful. You must be patient with yourself and take one day at a time. And once you’ve slept and awakened the next day you will feel a bit more brave because bravery is every soldier’s Band-aid.
When the anniversary of the worse day of your life is finally over you will discover that your arm hurts a little less but will notice that your knees are beginning to ache—from constant falling and picking yourself up, from constant praying, from carrying the extra weight of that phantom pain. Aching heart plus aching knees, but much less pain, will accompany you into the next year and each successive year until, at some point, there will be no more pain, only a recurring sadness that becomes easier to deal with through fond memories and current events. Beneath the sadness you will discover that you are stronger than you ever thought possible.
Take one day at a time and be patient. The missing “i” will fill back in slowly. It will not look the same, feel the same or be the same. It will develop in its own way, perhaps with a curly-que or a stringent bend, but it will be supportive and your body will not reject it. Take courage from those who have walked this path before you. There are many survivors out there; not one of them did it gracefully. You can believe it.