Friday, February 24, 2012


The other day while talking to a very caring friend, I mumbled, “Oh, boy, I can feel it coming.” My friend responded, “What does it feel like?” I laughed out loud because of the inherent insanity of describing something that has been so ever-present in my life to someone who has been blissfully untouched by such pain. Yet, my friend was insistent that I not dismiss her query and instead summon up an analogy to help her understand; to understand was to know me better. But it’s hard to describe deep feelings, especially feelings that we have so little experience with, around, or in. “Pish, posh”, she said. “Of all the people I know, you are the best at describing your feelings. So get to it.” I laughed. And then here’s what I said.

Imagine waking up abruptly trapped inside a small, rubber balloon. The cold rubber is like water, touching every part of your body, suffocating you. As you push your arm out, the stretchy material wraps tightly around your arm and resists your every effort to move. Every ounce of energy you use to squirm and fight, the balloon absorbs. Like a black hole, it takes everything you can throw at it and still wraps tightly around your body, suffocating you. You can’t breath. Life, it seems, is over.

Eventually, you notice that the rubber seems to be giving a slightly and it’s not quite as clingy as it once was. A barely perceptible space between the rubber and your mouth gives you just enough room to breath. Inhale and the rubber pulls into your mouth. Exhale and the rubber protrudes out. Yet, somehow, you can breath.

Then you notice that the rubber isn’t quite sticking to your body quite so tightly. It’s still in your face and stuck to almost every part of your body but it’s not so stubborn as it was; there’re places where it’s not even touching your skin. The absence of rubber in those places feels weird. Confusingly, you kinda sorta miss the rubber rubbing against your skin. Where it used to touch, now you just feel cold, like the feeling of a new short haircut or the feeling of a t-shirt the first day of spring.

Time goes on and eventually the rubber isn’t touching you any where despite being completely surrounded, like a bubble. If you lift your arm or tilt your head, skin meets rubber and now, instead of feeling cold, the rubber hurts. It’s so much better to stand very carefully, make no contact, and avoid the pain. So you do. Until you can’t stand there, trapped, any longer. So you push.

Pushing hurts. But you push and push hard. You reach out your hands and push the parts of the rubber bubble. As your hands hit rubber, the feeling is familiar: cold, doughy, absorbing. But you push and push hard. Each push hurts; it’s been a long time since your body has moved this way. And it seems like each stretch of the bubble is tied to pain. Slowly, the bubble expands. After tremendous hard work, sweat and pain, the bubble is big enough for you to sit inside. So you sit. And you cry. You are tired and you hurt. Stretching the bubble hurts.

As more time passes you grow quite comfortable living inside the little bubble. It doesn’t hurt inside as long as you don’t touch and don’t stretch. You can stand and you can sit. But eventually, you realize that you can’t live inside this bubble forever. And so, once again, despite the memory of the pain from last time, you push. And you push hard. And, like last time, it hurts.

With every push, the bubble expands and each expansion is met with enormous pain. But with each expansion, the world you know gets a little bit bigger. After a few big pushes, you can even take a few steps. With a few more pushes, you can walk around. Eventually, you have enough space inside your little bubble to live a simple little secluded life. The pushing, despite how much it hurts, is working. You are growing a new life.

But you have felt the terror of being trapped, of life wasted, and life lost. Living inside a bubble is not a life you are willing to live. So you continue to push, pain and all. Every push hurts and is followed by a period of rest. But to not push is to not live. And so the cycle continues.

It’s been nearly three years for me. I’ve pushed and I’ve sat. I’ve sat inside my bubble and cried. I’ve fought hard and now my bubble is big enough for me to live my life, have new experiences, meet new people and even have a relationship. It’s unusual now for me to hit the rubber walls. But I still hit them, even after nearly three years. But I’ll keep pushing. Life is too precious to be kept trapped behind any kind of barrier. The pain of pushing is worth the reward. One day, maybe the bubble will break. More likely, I’ll just keep stretching that damn bubble until it’s so thin I can’t see it any more and it’s so big I never run into it. I won’t be free, but I’ll be pretty close.


  1. Wow!
    Exactly. Thank you for this post.

  2. Excellent Chris, thanks.

  3. Nice analogy!

    There were a few comments that I connected with.
    “It’s so much better to stand very carefully, make no contact, and avoid the pain.”
    Yep! You realize that you're not suffocating anymore and the pain is dissipating, so you’re afraid to make any sudden moves!

    “But to not push is to not live.”
    I find that I'm occasionally taken back to the final moments of Dave’s death, and the moments immediately after, and remember that stark realization I had that is life is precious, and fragile, and short. I realized that it’s meant to be lived. To die along with Dave is not honouring him.
    Life is meant to be enjoyed and not endured. (Read this recently – don’t remember where. Might have been here.)

    Thanks Chris.
    I’m at 20 months. There are always moments where the rubber snaps back up against my skin and it hurts like hell, but for the most part I think I’m going to be OK.

  4. Chris,
    So well written.
    Thank you!

  5. And one day the bubble/balloon will be a beautiful reminder of how much you have persevered to become the person you are now in your new life without Maggie all because of the love you had and will always have for her. Great post!

  6. Chris,
    Thank You!!!
    Your words reach my soul nad gives me hope

  7. Thank you all for your helpful comments. it is almost 3 years since I lost my beloved Joe to cancer. My recent retirement from work after 18 years is bringing up a lot of stuff for me. Stuff about loss of identity and way of life.It is nice to know there are others out there going through the same stuff.

  8. This is amazing! I've been following on this blog for the past two years as I struggle through my own journey and I've never copied anything to share with the "outside" world. This is my place where I come to be with others who understand me completely. That sounds really weird, but it's true.

    Today, though, I had to copy the words and send them to people who I've tried to explain how this feels, but failed. This truly did explain it exactly. Absolutely brilliant. Thanks so much for putting it into words.

  9. wow. an absolutely perfect description for the last 4 years for me! Thank you so much for these words- I find so much comfort in knowing we are not alone in this experience.

  10. What an accurate analogy its nearly two years for me and still fighting that damned bubble its exhausting and fruitless. I still hope that one day the blessed thing will either smother me or break.

    Thank you.