Characters Part 2: Chronic Pain and “Emmy Moments”

When I started writing The Prodigal Sons, I began calling my own bouts of chronic pain “Emmy Moments.” Her struggle with chronic, unexplained pain is inspired by my own… albeit without the added issues of depression and anxiety (and that is surprising, because she would have had a lot more to be anxious about than I do!)

It starts out early in life for her, coming and going inexplicably. Although she never feels it is her own fault, there comes a point in Book 3 where we will see her husband being blamed for her condition — he then begins blaming himself, blaming God, and ultimately, blaming her.

She has plenty of moments of perfect health… just like me

She goes through years where it is in remission, and years where she has all the help she needs. She also goes through years of debilitating pain. Some of these scenes were written recently, as I was battling the same thing. They were easy for me to write: I simply needed to describe, with little embellishment, what I was already dealing with.

One of my greatest goals in writing is to create believable, relatable and compelling characters. When I wrote Sani: The German Medic, I was able to put myself into Frederick’s shoes and feel a lot of the fear, sadness, and conflict he felt. I was struggling with a bout of anxiety when I wrote Sani, so the feeling of being terrified was very real to me, and helped me write the combat scenes even though I’ve never experienced combat. I was struggling with a bout of depression, so I was able to feel the brokenness he felt at the loss of a close comrade.

I feel I know Emmy the same way. As I sit balled up on the couch and think about the things I should be doing (but can’t stand up to do at the moment), I think about her. The pain in her legs comes from my own, and it’s strange in the way it comes and goes. In some seasons of life, I’m strong enough to hike mountains. In others, I experience pain that burns deeply just walking up the stairs to put my kids to bed.

It’s so important that loved ones be sensitive to this. I love Jake’s compassion with her, even though they both find themselves in a culture that glorifies physical fitness (a piece of the culture of the Third Reich was producing young men and women that were fit and athletic). Jake has his shortcomings, and they become more severe throughout the series, but I love how he remains one of those men who melts in the presence of his woman, even though she doesn’t fit the image of the ideal female.

Christian is another man who comes to recognize her strengths, in spite of her weaknesses. At their first meeting they kind of push past each other, right after Jake and Emma have a fight. She walks out and Christian quips about her being feisty. Later on Emmy flat out warns Jake to stay away from Christian. At this point in the story there seems to be no love lost between the two of them.

Christian is right, Emmy is feisty. And tenacious. And stubborn. But the thing I love is seeing all my characters refined over the course of the series. Emma learns to harness that feisty, stubborn tenacity for good.

Some days I have to discern whether to rest or push through. Some days I have to live within my limitations while other days I have to allow God to do in me what I cannot. Some days I have to let God carry me to the top of the hill the way Jake carries Emmy:

It was almost Der Erste Mai, buds were appearing, the birds were singing, and the beauty of the Bavarian springtime shown around them. Already men were working to raise Maypoles in the small villages outside Munich.
“Are you feeling alright, girly?”
She giggled. He still held on to the English term girly. “You think you’ll ever take up English again?”
“Naturally,” he said, and began spouting off some English poetry. She grimaced as a wave of pain shot through her legs. “I’ve got to sit, Jakob.” Slipping out of his grip, she let herself fall to the ground.
“My poetry is that bad, ja? I don’t remember a lot of what Cousin Freddy taught me.” He knelt in front of her, dirtying his knees on the dirt path. “Are you all right?”
“I can’t do it Jakey. I don’t think I can make it to the top of the hill.”
His blue eyes stared at her with tenderness and he bit his lip a little. His brow furrowed. “We’re going to this top of the hill,” he finally said, rising to his feet. He bent and stretched one arm across her back, grasping her underarm gently, and swung his other arm underneath her legs. “We’re going to the top of the hill.” In a moment, she was up in his arms, close to his heart. She inhaled his scent again. At any moment, her heart could burst. No. He could never leave her because she would never let him go. She would do everything it took to keep him by her side. She would love him and make him happy for the rest of his life.

~Emmy and Jake on the Foothills~
The Prodigal Sons
Jake and Emmy during their courtship in The Prodigal Sons.

I considered using Emmy’s situation to address “Aktion T4,” the Nazi regime’s attempt to get rid of the more severely handicapped members of the population, but the fact is, she remained healthy enough to maintain a job with a tailor for many years and was in a season of particular well-being at the time those events were taking place. Her situation was not as extreme as it could have been. Still, at times she felt fear, wondering how bad her situation would get in the future and what could happen.

She stirred her own coffee, which had become lukewarm. “I’m just a girl,” she said, “I sing and I sew. Sometimes I can walk.”
“But not always.”
“No.” Would a day come when she could no longer openly admit to anyone that she had a major infirmity? Especially someone with a swastika on their armband.

~Emmy Gets to know Christian~
The Prodigal Sons

My writing balances history with life. In it, I strive to temper what we think we know about history with what reality probably looked like.

As an aside, when Book 3 is released, you might notice that Krystallnacht also goes entirely unaddressed. I may address it in the future, but the fact is, this night that became a major historical event in the history books may not have seemed so at the time (unfortunately, pogroms were not uncommon in many parts of Europe… even if Jake was in the SS, he may not have been involved). But as I said, perhaps that is a topic for another book.

You can read excerpts of The Prodigal Sons and Sani: The German Medic at my Books page. They are a available on Amazon and Google Books. Sani is also available as an audiobook through Audible and Apple Books.

Stay up to date with my newsletter: there are TWO releases slated for later this year!

2 thoughts on “Characters Part 2: Chronic Pain and “Emmy Moments”

  1. Thank you my sister for sharing this with us. You are, and have always been in my prayers since we met. Like a Mother’s heart I feel for you. God’s blessings as you navigate the painful and the eased times. Love, Deb

    Liked by 1 person

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