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What it means to live in pain

A husband reflects on his wife’s battle with autoimmune diseases.

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You can’t see the pain.

You can’t understand why the pretty woman in the burgundy SUV parks in the handicapped space.

You can’t figure out why the devoted Christian — who taught children’s Sunday school classes and made homemade lasagna for fellowship meals — stopped showing up for worship.

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You’re her husband, and you know she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. You know her symptoms started about the time she turned 40 — after two decades of marriage and when her three children were in their early and late teens.

You know your wife, now 53, doesn’t feel like getting out of bed some days, much less making dinner or watching a TV show together. 

You know she’s an amazing writer and communicator (much better than you) but had to stop working and go on long-term disability.

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You know she takes eight pills a day. You know she has a continuous release pain patch on her hip that she changes every 72 hours. You know the various medications, injections, infusions and diets that she’s tried over the years haven’t helped long term. (You know, sadly, that someone will read this column and immediately send a private message offering to sell her essential oils.)

You know she tries not to complain about the pain. But you know, too, that the pain is constant. She feels it in every joint. Her knees. Her wrists. Her elbows. 

Her back hurts all the time.

Tamie Ross with her granddog Frankie.

Tamie Ross with her granddog Frankie.

Flexing her hands sends a jolt through her entire body.

You know the joy of her life is her family. Her sons. Her daughter. Her daughters-in-law. But particularly her 4-year-old grandson and 2-year-old granddaughter. (I didn’t mention her pet rabbit, Pancake, but he’s a part of the family, too.)

If she could, she’d spend every waking moment with those precious grandchildren. And sometimes, she feels like sewing special pajamas for them and teaching them how to plant colorful perennials in the backyard. She feels like making fresh fruit smoothies for them and preparing the world’s best grilled cheese sandwiches.

But other times, she has to stay in bed. She texts at the last minute and says she is so sorry but she just doesn’t have the energy for a play date or sleepover. She loves playing Legos with her grandson and organizing pretend tea parties with her granddaughter. But sometimes her body just won’t let her bend down far enough to reach the living room carpet.

So she sends the text, and then the tears fill her eyes. 

You know her faith remains strong, even if you drive alone to church each Sunday. 

You know that sitting for that long — through even 60 minutes of worship — would inflame her pain and make her joints hurt even worse. You know that well-meaning fellow Christians, some of them sniffling and unaware of what germs do to the immunocompromised, would insist on hugs and handshakes. 

Tamie Ross enjoys an ice cream treat with her grandson, Bennett, and granddaughter, Norah.

Tamie Ross enjoys an ice cream treat with her grandson, Bennett, and granddaughter, Norah.

You know she participates in the assembly online. You know she finds comfort and hope in Jesus, even in the worst times. You know her own journey and suffering have made her more aware — so much more aware — of the trials and tribulations of others. 

You know how often — and how fervently — she prays for those who are in pain, some of whom she knows personally and others she doesn’t.

You know she finds strength in her Savior.

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You know all of these things, yet you still feel sorry for yourself sometimes. 

You miss her joining you on road trips and holiday drives to extended-family Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings. You miss her cheering with you in the stands at Texas Rangers games. You miss the gregarious life of the party who loved hanging out with friends — and still would if only she felt like it.

But in your less selfish moments, you praise God that she remains the utterly amazing woman you married, despite all she has endured.

You still turn first to her for column edits (including this one, but she didn’t change a word). You still tell her first when you have good news — or bad — to share. 

You still watch in amazement as she always remembers to send loved ones birthday cards, holiday gifts and texts congratulating them on accomplishments big and small.

You can’t see the pain, but you know it’s always there.

You still love that she lights up every room she enters, and you relish even more the times — be it a meal out with the family or a short cruise in the Caribbean — when she feels like doing it.

You pray for patience and compassion, especially on those days when she looks so normal on the outside but battles physical demons on the inside.

You can’t see the pain, but you know it’s always there.

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: autoimmune diseases faith family health Inside Story National Opinion pain management rheumatoid arthritis rheumatologists Ross family Rosses Tamie Ross Top Stories

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