Supporting the chronically ill, living life and finding hope
Author: Emily J. M.
Hi, I'm Emily. Two of my closest family members struggle with chronic illness, and I watch them. That's hard, and so I write about life as a 'Watcher', what it looks like to support them and find Hope.
A few weeks ago I did a talk for a Cancer Council morning tea on living when you can’t see God working and my own personal story about waiting for Him to fulfil His promises and bring something good out of chronic illness.
This is not a neat, polished story, tied up with perfect conclusion, because real life isn’t like that. But it’s my story, and all I have to offer. Here is the transcript:
” Firstly, standing up here today, I want to tell you I feel inadequate.
There are two reasons for this.
Firstly many of you have lived through difficulties I never will.
There are harder stories to tell than my own. I want to acknowledge that.
It’s difficult to care as much about something when you’re not confronted with it every day.
We are often more distressed about our 3 year old’s tantrum than a war in a 3rd world country. What we see and experience affects us.
Watching from a distance feels less ‘real’
What we experience personally seems more real, not only because we are a firsthand witness but because it actually disrupts our life.
Thus, it is more difficult to Watch when we do not see our Loved One regularly. It is genuinely hard to place as much importance on their struggles.
Not because our love is less, but because it makes up less of our day.
Have you ever felt over the moon with joy – only to have someone snipe at you for being “too idealistic?”
We’ve all met That Person. The one with a hard life and huge smile. They never seem ‘down’ and they’re always hopeful about the future, even when there seems to be little to hope in!
Perhaps you’re that person. Or maybe you’re more inclined to the opposite view… You understand that life is hard and it probably won’t get any better, and having fun is all very nice, but it’s not reality!
Idealism or pessimism? Which is the right response when confronted with tragedy and illness?
It’s easy to judge a response when it’s the opposite to our own
If you’re bubbly and full of life it can be extremely disheartening when others “drag you down”. It’s not pleasant to have our “bubbles burst” or our happiness frowned at!
Last weeks post was about the dangers of Watching… and yet, Watching also has many saving graces.
Being there for someone who is struggling can bring it’s own particular temptations. We can begin to feel entitled or special, because we are doing something that is hard. We may be inclined towards bitterness or envy.
Yet it’s important to remember the flip side of the equation. While Watching can present us with temptation, it can also be a huge benefit!
Watching benefits us like an electric fence.
Watching, like every circumstance, narrows our experience of life. Let me give an example:
The man who is happily married may be less tempted to cheat on his spouse. His marriage is a fence.
Yet the same man, because he is happily married, may be tempted to rip off his company to get more money to build a desirable lifestyle.
His fence, while keeping certain ‘dangers’ in, keeps other temptations out.
“Being There” for someone struggling is GOOD – but there are temptations along the way…
Watching is dangerous.
It’s not very “politically correct” to talk about morals when we discuss suffering. Ethics, certainly, but morals? They’re a bit more personal, a bit more offensive. After all, how can you suggest that someone in pain is responding the ‘wrong’ way?
At the same time, I think it’s essential. As a Christian, I want to become more like Jesus – and so it’s important to me to acknowledge the overt temptations I encounter. Even if you do not share my faith, I think we all would like to ‘build our character’ and ‘become a better person’ or ‘live up to our own standards’. It’s part of being human.
It’s important than, to acknowledge that Watching or care-giving can be morally dangerous. This because it contains the two ingredients which are often present when something good turns sour.
I find it quite difficult to respond to: ‘How are you?’
It doesn’t seem like an appropriate answer.
It seems a bit silly to even have to say this, but when a Loved One is diagnosed with a chronic illness, it can make us feel sad.
It sounds ridiculous. Of course when someone is sick it is going to make us sad. But I genuinely believe it’s not that simple. At least it wasn’t for me.
4 reasons we find it hard to be sad after a diagnosis
1. Sadness is unexpected
To be sad – and only sad – is quite rare.
Life is complex, and so we are often experience several emotions at a time, particularly in the wake of a chronic illness diagnosis.
Our grief is often tainted with anger or bitterness or frustration, or even exhaustion. As a result, when we find ourselves ‘simply’ sad, and ‘only’ grieving, it can feel a bit odd. It is an experience we are not prepared for, and don’t know how to cope with.
So what do we do (as Christians and/or as Watchers) with the parts of the Bible that promise immediate healing?
Why do passages in the Bible promise healing but not deliver?
First disclaimer: I’m not a trained theologian.
Second disclaimer: context is important, but for the sake of a read-able blog post I haven’t included the surrounding chapters of each of these verses.
Third disclaimer (this is the most important!): I can’t promise a miracle. But I can offer you company as you look through theses verses and puzzle over them. I can offer you my thoughts, and a chance to put aside your assumptions and your aching heart to read these passages anew.