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fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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I entered the world as a rag doll—so poorly sewn together that one pull on a single thread could cause me to unravel. And throughout my more than seven decades of life, many threads have been pulled. Whether I’m receiving exceptionally good news or dealing with inconveniences that I magnify into tragedies, I all too easily become undone and succumb to a tsunami of tears.

At age six, when I lost Laura, my first and only best friend, to the popular girls, I refused to leave the comfort of my room and books. I already understood the pain of not being whole.

Decades later, I sat in a hospital hallway. My son, whose leg had just been broken when a basketball teammate fell on it, was in an examination room on my left, and my daughter, whose friend had accidentally slammed the van door on her hand, was in a room on my right. Meanwhile, the hospital social worker, in a tone that conveyed both sympathy and accusation, was grilling me about how I was handling being a single mother of two teenagers—implying there might be more to these injuries than I was sharing. My sobs prevented me from answering. The more emotional strings she pulled, the more I unraveled; I feared I might become a pile of errant threads floating in a sea of tears.

Coming undone is second nature to me; it is coming together that is hard. Grandma, a first-rate stoic, used to remind me that things could always get worse. Ma repeated her favorite “this too shall pass” dictum. And Dad made me a cup of hot Ovaltine with mini-marshmallows. But with these loved ones now no longer here, I turn to my adult children. My rational son tells me that nothing is worth my extreme reactions: “Get it together, Ma, and move on,” he sagely (albeit naively) suggests. My empathetic and sympathetic daughter allows me to emotionally dissolve before helping me to problem-solve. With her support, I find a way out of my maze of despair. And of course saying yes to the pills prescribed by my primary care physician has helped me to create order out of chaos—to reattach the many loosened and tangled threads.

The process of unraveling and mending exhausts me, but to live requires that I keep patching myself back together—one day at a time.

Ronna L. Edelstein
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


4 thoughts on “Unraveling”

  1. The rag doll image is quite effective. She doesn’t feel poorly sewn or broken. She feels so refreshingly real, stitched together by threads of challenging experiences, still showing up, still holding on.

    Thank you for your story.

    1. Ronna Edelstein

      Thank you, Kaveri. I spend a lot of time brainstorming ways to respond to the Pulse theme of the month. I am grateful that the rag doll image worked. Your comment means a lot to me.
      Be well!

  2. Ronna Edelstein

    Thank you for reading my story, Sue. Your mom must have been a very strong woman to raise her children as the sole parent. I applaud her for her efforts and, I am sure, her many successes. Life is a difficult journey; we can only try our best to stay whole and deal with each challenge–and reward–one step at a time.
    Be well!

  3. Also, in my 70s, I look back and marvel at my mom who was a single mom to four children when my father died, and she was only 32 years old. She didn’t have it all together but she is the person I think of when I start unraveling. Thank you for sharing your story.

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