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.
They are sick and I am not.
I can leave the house. They cannot.
I can eat anything I want. They must not.
Guilt is an emotion that it is easy to struggle with after a diagnosis of chronic illness.
When we as Watchers see how the illness is impacting our Loved One’s lives, and envision how it will continue to impact their lives,… the guilt creeps in.
Why do we feel guilty?
When we are out partying or simply enjoying a day at the beach we feel guilty because our Loved One can’t be there with us.
Or perhaps they can – but they are exhausted and have to sit down and miss out on the fun. Maybe they have a health problem they need to worry about, and the experience, enjoyable for us, is isolating for them.
We receive what they do not – and so we feel guilty. Days out become a guilty pleasure. It seems wrong to arrive home to our Loved One or visit them, and recount the fun we had with our healthy body and mind.
Yet guilt is not just about imbalance. For instance, if instead of being painful, lonely and debilitating, chronic illness was like winning the lottery, I don’t think we would feel guilty.
I think we’d feel jealous.
Instead, chronic illness is awful, and so we feel guilty. Their life has been ruined. It is restrictive, it is pain filled. They will climb mountains and descend into valleys which we will never tread.
Likewise, we will enjoy delights that they never will.
Our close relationship with our Loved One means we can’t forget or ignore these imbalances.
After all there are thousands of people in slavery across the world and on the whole we do not spend our hours feeling guilty about our own freedom.
In one sense our role in someone else’s chronic illness is quite small. We certainly can’t ‘redeem’ their suffering or even carry their burden for them! HOWEVER, I do believe that Watching someone going through a hard time and “being there” for them is the very best thing you can do.
Our role in someone else’s suffering is bigger than we think because:
1: The people we Watch are precious
There’s a line in the Jewish Talmud which states:
‘To save one Jewish life is the same as saving the world entire.’
That is an immense claim and it raises a lot of problematic questions (such as: does that mean everything is permissible if it saves one life? What if that person is a murderer? What does it actually mean to save a life?).
Rather than delving into the philosophy behind this quote, I want to focus on the fact that every life is infinitely important.
Each person is created by God, in the image of God, for a purpose and a reason.
God cares deeply about each and every life – and so should we.
2: The people we Watch are immortal
C. S. Lewis touches on this when he describes us as having “immortal souls” (The Weight of Glory).
We are creatures of eternity.
As a result our lives are important. Not only our lives after death, but our lives before it too.
Every second that we live on this earth is one of cosmic significance. Not because we are great but because we are greatly loved.
Our Loved Ones have immortal souls.
There are beautiful things on this earth that only last a short while. Sunsets die away and flowers whither. Yet God did not create us to be sunsets or withering flowers. He gave us eternal souls and in doing so demonstrated that in His eyes we are more important than all the beauties of nature.
Not only so, but He sacrificed Himself to have a relationship with the human race despite the fact that we are undeserving of such love.
3: The people we Watch are not accidents or mistakes.
It is this careful creation and painstaking redemption that sanctifies every prosaic moment on earth. Every smile, every phone call, every scrubbed kitchen floor has eternal consequences.
Our role as Watchers is important because God has given it to us.
The huge sacrifices of time and money are important – and so are the tiny, speechless moments. The visible burdens are significant and so are the unseen ones.
If God has said that washing the dishes is important, who are we to argue otherwise?
Will you embrace your role and see it as important?
While Watching is not an answer to the ‘Problem of Pain’ that doesn’t mean we’re not important. If a spoon won’t cut my toast, it doesn’t mean the spoon is useless. It simply means it was created for something else.
Watching is not an antidote to suffering, but it may be a balm.
We may not be able to solve their problems or even lessen their pain. Our endeavours to soothe may be useless and our attempts to help may prove futile. But standing by one person and loving them is enough. Living the life of a Watcher because we have no choice is enough.
It is enough because people matter. Every one of us is precious, immortal and part of God’s plan. As a result our role in someone else’s suffering – even when it seems insignificant – it actually huge.
// Do you believe your everyday life is important? Do you live like it is?
Don’t be shy. Join the conversation and comment below!
Perhaps you have been here:
A knock at the door.
It’s a friend, a neighbour. She has just popped over for a chat.
She holds a covered dish:
‘Cooked a bit extra and thought you could do with a home cooked meal’.
She asks how we are, how our Loved One is.
She complains for a while about her work, and how tired she is from the high tea she went to on the weekend. She has another date with friends in a few days but unfortunately it coincides with the birthday of a family member:
‘It’s always the way isn’t it? Everything at once, so frustrating.’
She shifts on the door step:
‘Ah well, no rush to return the dish – we’ll be away for a few weeks.
Going on a cruise. Just a small one. I’m a bit worried actually, I’m terrified I’m coming down with a cold. There’s nothing worse than a sniffly nose!
Anyway, got to rush, I have a hair dressers appointment this afternoon. All the best!’
You juggle the still-warm meal and close the door, the hot smell of cheese and silver foil clouding the air.
After the door is firmly shut and the neighbour out of sight, you give the wood a short, hard kick.
Being told your Loved One has a chronic sickness, either physical or mental, is devastating.
Telling someone else can be even harder.
It is excruciating.
And the problem is, we all have more than one person in our lives. And so we are forced to tell the same sad story again and again.
This is not a post with a lot of answers. I’m not sure there are answers. But sometimes, empathy is enough. I pray that is the case here. For you. For me.
Breaking the news of a diagnosis is complex (we need to acknowledge this)
Every situation is different – and the truth is, we are going to have share in many situations. We all have best friends, distant friends, close family, family that live far away, colleagues, communities, church families, sport teams, school classes…. The list goes on.
Chances are, sharing with each of them will look different.
There’s a reason this post is titled ‘Watching is a privilege’ rather than ‘Watching is easy’.
Am I going crazy?
Following on the heels of the previous post, ‘Watching is hard’, the title above seems incongruous. But be assured, what follows will not cancel out what was written previously.
Watching remains hard, very hard. But I’d like to propose that it is also a privilege. It is an opportunity, and a very unique one. You see, the world around us says that a good and normal life is one full of ease and comfort, luxuries and relational happiness.
That’s all very well, and ideally maybe such a life would be good and normal.