I go to bed with a heating pad and a special pillow and I close my tired eyes and try to quiet my mind which is running in a way I no longer can.
The pain in my chest keeps me awake and my cheeks are damp from knowing she is nearing the end of her time with us.
I toss and turn but even that is altered now -- it's a process to turn over and there's pain if I lay on my back and pain if I lay on my hips, and if I lay on my side my ribs ache.
I give up for now, and push aside the covers, reaching for my glasses on my bedside table, and quietly get into a sitting position and then stand and grab a sweatshirt and slip out of the bedroom as silently as I can, trying not to wake my husband.
I put on the tea kettle and flip the knob to high and watch as the burner glows red in the dark kitchen. In the dark night.
Opening the microwave, I ball up a second heating pad and place it on the rotating glass plate and press "3." The appliance hums to life loudly in our silent home and I hope, like so many previous nights, that I am not disturbing the rest of the three gifts God has given me -- my husband Jonathan, and our daughters who sleep with well-loved bunnies and dollies in a shared bedroom lit by soft nightlight.
I rock and sip and wait for medication to kick in, and remember when my oldest was only 4 and she would find me balled up on the floor and tell me, "Medicine takes a long time to kick in, Sweetheart, but it will kick in." She would squat down and stroke my hair and sing me a little song.
My family has lived with chronic pain for several years now. It has come in different forms -- first, after a miscarriage, as pelvic pain, and then as spine and joint pain.
It wasn't invited, but it's here nonetheless, and although we didn't ask it to come, we have learned our way around it. We have learned, every single one of us, how to take better care of each other. We have learned, from 6'2" Jonathan to 44" Natalie Kate, how to be more compassionate.
We have learned how to love better and how to be more patient and we have absolutely learned to be flexible with plans, as I don't know from one day to the next how I will be feeling. Because of that unpredictability we've also learned how to seize the day. Mama isn't limping today? Let's take a family walk!
I sit and rock and sip and wait for the heat and the medicine to soak in and through me and I wipe away a tear that represents the grief I feel over Sara's life ending soon. More tears swell up and pool in my eyes that represent this profound love I have for my family and friends and life itself, and my gratitude that I am here to experience all of this, the good and the bad.
Eventually I head back for a second try at sleep. I slip back under the covers, fold my glasses back onto my bedside table, adjust myself with two heating pads and a special pillow, and finally drift off to sleep with my chest hurting and my heart aching.
I don't enjoy the pain, and I resent how it effects our family (especially when I see the hurt and worry in my daughters' eyes), but I relish these sweet gifts it has taught me:
Live this life you've been given. It's precious!