Recently, a woman who had lost her mother and father in the last two years expressed
how tired she was of always feeling anxious and fearful. Her losses had brought home
the fact that the people she loved were all going to die. It could be anytime and
anywhere. The possibility of facing the loss of her husband or one of her children was
constantly invading her thoughts. She was tired and stressed all the time.
Her words were all too familiar. They brought me back to the time between my
husband 鈥檚 Stage IV cancer diagnosis and his death 3 陆 years later. When Greg 鈥
檚 cancer was discovered, it had already spread to other organs. The doctor was
understandably hesitant to share a prognosis of 6 months with a 37 year-old man, his
wife and three young children. Being youthful and otherwise strong, Greg fought for
his life and even managed to rally for periods of time during those years. He was up
and down, riding that roller coaster of cancer and chemotherapy. He bounced back
quickly after the initial surgery and was back to work in just a few weeks. He
tolerated the weekly chemo treatments pretty well, but after several months he would
develop a complication, become quite ill and be admitted to the hospital for care. He
would recover, come home, go back to work and the whole cycle would start over.
Every time he had a downturn, I was afraid. Would this be the time that he wouldn
鈥檛 recover? This fear was normal and realistic. The feelings of fear that troubled
me more were the thoughts that occurred during the 鈥済 ood 鈥?times. Times when
Greg was feeling well, working a normal schedule, and involved with the family. I
kept worrying that this normalcy was just an illusion and was often overcome with
dread and deep sadness that our future together most likely would not last long. It was
debilitating. I desperately needed to find a way to face this fear and hold on to
optimism, while still maintaining a realistic outlook on our situation.
I did manage to find an answer. One afternoon when the dread hit me, I thought
about how much regret I would have later, when the worst did occur. I didn 鈥檛
want to look back later, when he was dying or had died and think 鈥淲 hy didn 鈥檛
I appreciate life and feel happy when things were good?鈥? These were the days for
rejoicing and thankfulness. They would end much too soon. I needed to squeeze every
bit of joy and love out of them that I possible could. I knew that I would have plenty
of time to be horribly miserable then. I promised myself that I could wallow in it
when he died. But I was not going to be miserable now!
Fear is paralyzing if we let it take control of our lives. Yes, we will all die someday,
but in the meantime, we must focus on the joy of living. Even faced with the
knowledge of his impending death, my husband chose to take joy in his life and his
family. He never wanted to be "written off" but wanted to live every day to the fullest.
Fear is an exhausting emotion. It takes up all of our energy. So here's the challenge:
What good can we do with that energy? Are we afraid that we'll lose another loved
one? Then carve out more time to spend with that person. Appreciate his/her qualities
and try to find more joy in that relationship. Are we afraid of our own death? Then
take our energy and help others who are already facing death. Volunteer at a hospice.
Help out at a hospital. The dying have a great deal to teach the living.
Our courage is what will help us conquer the pain of death. Courage is not the
absence of fear, but the choice to go forth in spite of the fear. Courage is facing fear.
We must consider ourselves participants in life as long as we have this gift of life.
Make a difference, live to the fullest, find joy 鈥?these are the things that will release
us from the regrets of fear.
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