Have your dreams ever been broken? Have you ever wept because something you hoped for will never be?
A ‘broken dream’ sounds like something from a fairy-tale or a Shakespearean sonnet, something which doesn’t quite happen in the 21st century.
Are you brave enough to admit to having broken dreams?
We all have dreams
Who lives entirely in the present? Very few of us! Even if we don’t label them as such, I think we’ve all had dreams, hopes or idealisations of the future.
For some of us, these dreams will involve loving spouses and healthy children.
For others it might look like a peaceful retirement, a satisfying vocation or simply, security.
Our Loved One is too healthy.
On the surface this doesn’t really seem like an issue, does it? More like an answer to prayer!
And yet, I’d like to propose it can be a problem too.
As we Watchers know, chronic illness is unremitting, that’s the nature of it. But the reality is, chronic illness, like everything has it’s ups and downs. Some days are better than others, some weeks are worse. Sometimes we can joke and other times all we can do is cry.
This ebb and flow is good. It helps us survive. It brings us hope, it gives us relief. But it can also be a hard reality to communicate.
‘How is your Loved One?’ Someone asks. ‘Not well,’ you say. ‘Oh, but I saw them at the grocery shop the other day, they looked so good!’
I am not going to say that I am thankful for my mum’s diagnosis. I’m not at that stage yet, and I’m not sure if I ever genuinely will be. Yet these past two weeks have left me with much to be thankful for.
So much more than I expected.
Yet I hesitate to share this reality, because it sounds too saccharine.
‘Practising gratitude’ has become a stock ‘self-care’ practice over the last few years and so I am scared of being ‘cliché’.
Not because clichés are wrong or embarrassing (we can’t all be hipsters and there’s really nothing new under the sun!) but because I don’t want my thankfulness to be seen as something artificial.
I am not thankful because I ‘ought’ to be, or because I ‘have’ to be, or because the Bible says I should be. I am thankful because I genuinely have a lot to be thankful for.
Last but not least, I can be thankful because I hold onto a Hope which exists in the aftermath. In the face of suffering and cancer leading to death forever, I would find it hard to be thankful for these things. Yet because I know these little bursts of light are only glimmers of what will come after death, I find I can be thankful.
Just because someone suffers from lupus, doesn’t mean they can’t get diagnosed with appendicitis.
Last week my mum who has type 1 diabetes and multiple chronic illnesses was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
It’s not fair.
And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be.
I’m going to try not to make this post a mere outpouring of my raw emotions, because that is neither helpful for others, nor in line with the tradition of this blog.
That said, such a diagnosis WILL impact my writing, and it’s not something I can keep quiet about. Partly because it’s real and leaking into every corner of my life, and partly because I hold out the hope that my reflections might help others going through similar trials.
For me, there is something clarifying in forcing my emotions to submit to the demands of rhythm and rhyme.
Obviously it’s been a while since I posted. Lately my thoughts have not been ordered enough to sit down and blog, the reason for this being that new health problems have arisen in the lives of my Loved Ones (and hence in my life).
And so, I’ve spent some time grieving, some time trying to figure out my response, and even more time wondering what the future will look like. As of yet, I don’t have any answers, and I’m not sure when ones will be forthcoming – but this I know: my God goes on before me.
In an attempt to process this new upheaval I spent some time writing poetry. I offer this as an explanation as to why I haven’t been writing here, but also because I thought perhaps sharing some stanzas might also serve as an explanation, and even an encouragement. Is there anyone else who turns to poetry in order to order their thoughts?
For years I never considered that this label belonged to me. It seemed too formal, to restrictive, too…important for what I did to help my chronically ill mum.
Hugs and housework and understanding.
Surely those didn’t deserve such a label?
Yet when my younger sister was diagnosed with a brain tumour and I spent every other day at the hospital and I cared for her in many physical ways from feeding to advocating for her with the pain team, I still didn’t feel this label belonged to me.
But I also felt that I needed the help a label brings.
This is a blog about ‘Watching’. That is, loving suffering people while not suffering yourself.
But what does that look like? It can (and does!) look like many things, but sometimes it’s helpful to look at what we are not.
When I think of ambition, I see someone fighting tooth and nail to get to the top of their career ladder
… and to be honest, that’s not me.
When I think of ambition, I imagine an athlete, struggling to stay ahead of their peers, striving for Olympic gold
… and to be honest, that’s not me.
When I think of ambition, I picture a work-a-holic father, shutting out his family and surviving on toast and beans in his desire for success
… and to be honest, that’s not me.
And yet, I’ve come to realise over the years that ambition can take different forms. Or perhaps what I am about to describe is not ambition exactly – and yet ambition is the best word I’ve found so far to describe it.
Ambition says, “I can do it all”.
What makes Ambition wrong?
What makes Ambition right?
Am I being called to give Ambition up? Am I okay with that?
And how can our ambition get in the way of our love for others and our calling to Watch?
I recently went to a conference where I met a lot of new people.
Which (necessarily) led to lot of introductions – and because this was a writing conference, it also led to a lot of answering the question: what do you write?
Which in turn led to explaining about this blog, and after that, about my Loved Ones – namely, my mum and my sister. After the first five times I got my ‘blurb’ down pat:
“I write a blog about loving people with chronic illnesses, as my Mum has multiple diseases including pernicious anaemia and type 1 diabetes (with all its associated problems) and my sister had a brain tumour and now her body does not produce any hormones.”
It was a ‘neat’ answer, but after offering it a couple more times I found myself growing increasingly uncomfortable. I found it difficult to repeat, to the point where I had to practically force myself to say it and felt like I was rushing to get it over and done with.
Considering our future in the presence of chronic illness is even harder. Illness is unpredictable.We can’t say how long our family member will need us, or how soon they will take a turn for the better or the worse.
We need to be realistic, but also hopeful.
Loving someone who is ill or aging means that whatever decisions you make, you are making them for two. That is a lot of responsibility, and there is a huge pressure to ‘choose right’.