Thoughts by Richard Bleil
A friend asked me a very painful question tonight. After a difficult day that reminded her of a personal tragedy in her life, and a day that I know was eventful and busy for her, she asked me why it is that things seem so much more amplified and painful at night. For her, that painful memory had happened hours earlier, and it raised tears and sorrow for her. Then she put it aside.
Putting painful events and memories away is not necessarily ever easy, but it is easier when there are things with which a person can distract themselves. I’ve done it many times myself throughout the years. When my wife divorced me, I threw myself into my work as a water treatment chemist. My mom died just as I was starting my job as the director of the forensic lab, and that was a superb job to distract myself. With the recent passing of my father, I’m keeping myself very busy with my teaching. But the problem is that, no matter how deep you bury that pain, or how thoroughly you manage to distract yourself, that pain is still there.
I call these “land mines”. My friend stepped on one of hers today, a trigger that for one reason or another brings these suppressed feelings and memories, suddenly and unexpected, to the surface. And all of a suddenly, you have to deal with it. And she did, but only surface level. I’m guessing she might have welled up a bit, but she regained the control she needed to behave in the professional manner that the situation required. But tonight, those feelings are coming back.
I find it’s easier to temporarily deal with pain with the noise of the day. It’s not unlike the first time you turn on the car after driving on a noisy highway for a significant distance, and suddenly the stereo is loud enough to burst an eardrum. With the background noise of the highway, you barely notice the volume, but in the silence of night its unbearably loud.
I had a former student who worked as a nurse as she was taking classes to become a Physician Assistant. She stopped by my office to speak with me one day, visibly upset. She explained that a patient on her floor had, yesterday, been told that her condition was terminal, but she was so busy that she didn’t have time to visit with this patient until after her shift was over and she signed out. I asked her if the patient had visitors throughout the day, and she assured me that, yes, family and loved ones were with her all day until visiting time was over. Then I asked her to consider what had happened from the patient’s perspective. After hearing the news, and being distracted all day, she was facing the very first night, alone, with the reality of her own mortality when she, my student, took the time to visit her in her own free time. I cannot imagine a more important time for her to visit this patient when the silence of the night gives the perfect stage for the demons of the night.
And at night these demons play in oh so many cruel ways. I spend sleepless nights dwelling on old memories, and, as I wrote recently, when I do manage to fall asleep, they haunt me through my dreams raising pain that will last throughout the rest of the day or longer.
Tonight, just in case, I will turn my phone ringer on for her. Usually, my ringer is off. I’ll often forget to turn it off, so rather than risk having my phone go off when I’m lecturing, something I won’t let my students get away with, so I just leave it off. If I miss a call, I can always call back (a habit I learned from my father, actually). But when I have a friend in particular pain for one reason or another, I’ll turn it on so they can call me at any time. Being single, it’s not like they’ll bother my partner if they call, but the funny thing is that, through the years, although I’ve done this several times for several different friends, nobody has ever taken me up on the offer. But more than once my friends have expressed an appreciation for my doing so, not because they reached out but because, through this gesture, they knew that I was there for them. Sometimes, just having somebody there, physically or emotionally, is all it takes to scare those demons away. I hope it works tonight.