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Pain Is Inevitable, Empathy Is Optional

 

Art Fair Canvas

I’m back in Florida and STUNT MAN says he’s eager to see me.  He arrives with a pink phalaenopsis orchid and a broken window on his aging Buick. He’s wearing jeans and his shirt is a brave polyester copy of something Ralph Lauren might have created on an off day. I don’t care. I love the orchid, and for once it’s not too hot to ride in a car with an open window.

We head for one of Florida’s famous outdoor craft shows. The artists’ wares are variously elegant, whimsical, and kitschy, but they’re not our primary focus. We are people watching. It’s fun until I hear pain in STUNT MAN’s voice and note that he’s walking with careful, measured steps.

It’s his back – the back he injured many times during decades of jumping off bridges and out of speeding cars. We’re deep in the network of display booths and he won’t turn back because of some vestigial impulse to bear pain stoically. During his years in the movie industry STUNT MAN worked long hours with broken ribs and worse.

EATING, DRINKING, NOT BEING MERRY

On the pretense that I am starving, I steer him to a café so he can rest a bit before we return to the car. We order omelets and coffee – then he lets me in on his bleak and startling medical history. What’s wrong? Let me just say that the outlook for STUNT MAN’s future as an independent, ambulatory person is grim.

back pain

We walk slowly to the car and discover that someone, unable to resist the urge to add insult to injury, has given the smashed window another whack; we brush chunks of glass from the passenger seat and wind out of the crowded parking lot. I offer STUNT MAN a chance to rest on my couch with a hot pad, but he wants to go home to the comfort of his own bed. I give him a gentle hug and send him on his way.

COMPASSION AS HISTORY

I have already said that STUNT MAN is not Old Mr. Right, so his medical difficulties are not the only reason I don’t see a future for us, though it’s a big factor. Caring for an incapacitated senior man is a privilege as well as a duty when a close, loving relationship has developed over many healthy years. But to pledge myself to a nursing role at the very beginning of a relationship is not something I could do.

Or could I? If I had met STUNT MAN and fallen immediately, madly in love with him, would my attitude be different? I have no way of knowing, but I like to think it would be. In my view, love is the great provider, and if what it provides is hardship, you do what you must for and with the one you love.

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'Pain Is Inevitable, Empathy Is Optional' have 9 comments

  1. April 4, 2013 @ 9:43 am TinaB

    He seems like a nice guy, but I don’t see much romance here.

  2. December 6, 2012 @ 11:18 am Percy

    Some women ask you on a first date, after they ask you what you do and how well you’ve planned for your retirement, they ask you what medications you take.

  3. September 11, 2012 @ 9:42 am Elana

    This is thought-provoking and well written. I am in love with a man who has quite a lot of health issues and although we are considering marriage, I have serious doubts. This has helped me.

  4. September 27, 2011 @ 10:19 pm marie

    Sienna,
    Thank you! I will be pleased to add your link to my blog!
    Marie

  5. September 27, 2011 @ 8:21 pm Sienna

    Marie – Thanks so much for visiting my blog and for sharing your story. You’ve come through quite a lot of heartache! After such expenditure of strength and devotion you seem to have found someone whose love stands for optimism and a future of fulfillment. I’m very happy for you both. I love your blog, too. My readers can read more about you there – http://boomeradventures.wordpress.com/

  6. September 27, 2011 @ 2:40 pm Marie

    My first husband died suddenly of a heart attack at 43 (and I was 41)- my second husband had degenerative spinal desease and ended up on social security disability, alcohol and pot at 56 (I was 55) …. I am now 60 and in love with a 53 year old (we’ve been “dating” for 3 1/2 years) – for the first time I’m not so worried about ending up as caretaker. I know the worry, though – and it’s a hard decision to back away from someone you could care deeply about at some point whose health you can see failing. Its a hard decision –

  7. September 27, 2011 @ 2:23 pm Lillian

    This is why I’m not real optimistic about finding a man I want to be with who’s older than I am. I’m in good health and I would like to be with a healthy man in the years that I have left.

  8. July 11, 2010 @ 11:00 am Sienna

    This is indeed a recurrent theme among widows. Caretaking is emotionally and physically stressful when it applies to caring for someone you’ve deeply loved for decades. The stresses are of a different kind when it involves someone you’ve known for a relatively short period.

  9. July 1, 2010 @ 12:09 pm Katherine

    I just found this essay I guess you’d call it. I can’t tell you how often I hear this from my friends in their 60s and 70s. After nursing a seriously ill husband for months or years, they are afraid to get involved with someone new. They did it once and they don’t want to do it again.


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