In the Midst of Fear and Grief

Biographies of bold disciples begin with chapters of honest terror. Fear of death. Fear of failure. Fear of loneliness. Fear of a wasted life. Fear of failing to know God.

“Faith begins when you see God on the mountain and you are in the valley and you know that you’re too weak to make the climb. You see what you need… you see what you have… and what you have isn’t enough… Faith that begins with fear will end up nearer the Father.” ~Max Lucado

Though we still may not have lost a loved one, grief is still possible to experience. To experience grief, you need not be standing at the foot of a closed casket or next to a hospital bed watching for the next breath of a loved one to be the last. Grief can begin before death. Grief can sweep over you for things lost in life – friendships, quality of life, loss of family relationships, etc.

C.S. Lewis said, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear… the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.”

The comfort I gain from the quote above is that although I know fear does not come from the Father, it can lead us deeper into Him. When you ask what you will do without your best friend, a child, or a parent that has just died, the loss of your quality of life, a wayward child – who will you turn to for encouragement, support, and comfort, it is as if you have just opened the door to the arms of your heavenly Father. It is as if you hear Him whisper, “I want to be all of that for you and more.”

Unfortunately, I have run to the wrong places for comfort before running to the arms of God. I have sought after best friends instead of seeking a greater intimacy with the lover of my soul. I have listened to the counsel of others before praying for guidance from the One who holds my future in His hands. I have sought peace from other means before praying to the God of all comfort.

Yes, God uses others in our lives to help us to grow, but they cannot grow us nor can they give us peace. They cannot fill the hole that only He can and wants to fill. Those people in our lives who we trust with our love, our fears, our hearts – they are needful, just as we are. They are vessels God works through. But, they are not God.

When I hear the word ‘fear’, I think of Psalm 23. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (surgeries, chronic diseases, heart problems, dying marriages, lost children), we do not have to fear anything, for our God is with us. He will never leave us. His rod and His staff, tools used for protection, bring comfort and peace to us.

Fear immobilizes us. Faith gives us courage. And courage happens not because of the absence of fear but because of it. Courage, even though standing with heartache and weeping tears of what can feel like unending sorrow says, “Even though the valley of death surrounds me, I will not fear, because You, my God of all comfort, are here for me.”

We must believe that is true, even when we don’t feel like it is true. Faith and courage do not rest on what or how we feel but on what we believe and know to be true. And one thing I know to be true…

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is His faithfulness. ~Lamentations 3:22-23

Even in the midst of fear.

Top Regrets at the End of Life

There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. A palliative nurse who has counselled the dying in their last days has revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. And among the top, from men in particular, is ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.”

Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

What’s your greatest regret so far, and what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?

Taking Care of You

California Towhee
California Towhee

In a recent conference on Parkinson’s disease that I attended, one of the speakers stated, “Hope is medicine.” For the ill at mind, body, heart, or spirit, that is so true. Fyodor Dostoevsky once said, “To live without hope is to cease to live.” As a Parkinson’s patient, it may be hard to see, find, or feel hopeful.

One of the first symptoms that is often overlooked while Parkinson’s is making its mark on your life can be depression. If, in fact, you have PD and it did make it’s mark on you by depressing your outlook in the earliest stages, most likely by the time of diagnosis, you may have felt like your whole world had caved in. Then, you may have sat there in the doctor’s office feeling as if a thousand ton weight of steel that has just landed on top of you as you weat in your cave of grief.

One of the hardest things for us to talk about, much less deal with as a people in general, is depression. The difficulty of dealing with it only increases when you have a condition like PD, which easily lends itself to making depression one of its star players. It can play a large part in the relationship between the patient and his/her caregiver, especially if we, as the patient, neglect or forget to take our medicative “balms”. It is my firm belief that if we are not taking care of ourselves emotionally and mentally, it will be a struggle to care for ourselves physically. When our mind is not functioning well, we tend to look at our disease with a somewhat distorted vision, making it even harder than it already is to handle. To add to the pot, too often the distorted, left-unattended-view only continues into a downward spiral mentally.

However, as with any disease, having Parkinson’s can and/or will make you think twice about your  perspective on life. Your life, in particular. Where you may have once thought of yourself as insignificant, worthless, etc., you now, whether you realize it or not, have found that you are of value. Why else  do we seek out a doctor’s care? A support group? Because you matter.

You may not have worked through the whys or the hows but somewhere, consciously or not, you have realized that your life means something and you’re going to strive to make it the best you can with this disease.

Because your life matters, your quality of life should matter to the fullest extent in which you are capable. For example, if you can offer some time to one less fortunate – reading to a hospital patient, listening to a housebound vet tell of his “adventures”, checking in on a neighbor less fortunate, offering your time to help out in a soup kitchen – do it. Doing activities like this can often remind us that things could always be worse and it always feels good to be able to help someone else.

If you can sing, sing. It’s good for the heart and for those with PD, it’s really good for the voice and the throat muscles.

If you love to do artsy things, don’t stop because of PD. If you have to change to a different art form, change. Just don’t quit.

Walk, if you can. This is good for the muscles, good for your heart, good for the spirit. Walk with a friend and be doubly blessed (and safe). If only intentionally around the house, walk.

Talk to someone. When we feel like a burden, we can often shut down. This is when I find it most hard to open up and when I find it most needful to do it. Talk to someone. Let them remind you of the truth that you do matter.

Living with Parkinson’s disease is hard. It’s a day to day battle of pain, in the mind, body, and spirit. It is a constant fight for control. It is an acceptance for the unwanted. It is learning how to live a new normal while everyone else continues with the familiar. It is learning to realize you matter and there’s a reason you were chosen to carry this load, to endure the pain, to walk this path. So, while on this jour net they call Parkinson’s disease, take care of you. Take good care of you.

“If you’re reading this…
Congratulations, you’re alive.
If that’s not something to smile about,
then I don’t know what is.”
Chad Sugg, Monsters Under Your Head