Gayle awoke yesterday his good hand reaching for his temple, pressing fingertips lightly against the skin above the eyebrow in a vain attempt to corral the dreaded electric shocks of trigeminal neuralgia, an afterthought of the multiple sclerosis he’s had for forty years.
As kids on the farm we knew the difference between the electric fence and the barbed wire one. To our experienced eyes, the two fences were as different as night and day. Given the unhappy choice, we would choose barbed wire scars any day over the frightful. pulsing shocks of the electric fence.
But Gayle has no choice. Nothing fences in his searing stabs of pain once the nerve starts to convulse. “The suicide pain,” one doc told him, “that’s what you have. The worst pain there is.”
Today, Gayle awakes without a grimace. His fingers are relaxed, his hand resting on his stomach instead of reaching to his temple to still the thrumming nerve, strummed into convulsions by its neighboring blood vessel. “Let me show you what’s happening outside,” I tell him. I help him dress and pull himself into his wheelchair. We wheel to the window and see snowflakes, wet and fat, float to the ground, settling on every flat surface.
We live on the high plains of the Rockies, so we are not surprised by early October snow. We are surprised, though, by the surcease of wind. Snow usually blows sideways across the window, swirling and dumping in drifts. The wind here is as constant as Gayle’s pain.
But this morning, he enjoys a double blessing – the pain is stilled while the snow quietly grows by the inch atop the wooden fence post. “I remember the snow falling outside our one-room log schoolhouse,” he says. I look at him, his brow as smooth as a boy’s. “It piled all the way to the top of the roof.” I imagine him as a six-year old, oblivious to the ongoing spelling lesson, gazing spell-bound through mullion-paned windows at Mt. Moran shrouded in a veil of falling snow.
In the present time, we watch the pond wrapped in snow-white gauze. He has no words for this beauty, part remembered, part today’s reality. No words but a deep breath, a sure sign of life. I remember a childhood hymn. “Breathe on me breath of God, fill me with life anew.” And I know Gayle wouldn’t trade his recurring pain for the chance to witness this moment when God is manifest in the world outside the window.
Sheryl and her husband Gayle have been married for over 50 years, 40 of them dealing with Gayle’s progressive multiple sclerosis. Gayle is a hero to his kids and grandkids, his friends and neighbors, and Sheryl is now, in her retirement, his full-time caregiver.
Read Sheryl’s poem. Click here.