There are five stages of grief. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Each of us grieves when dealing with the diagnosis of a chronic illness. I remember yelling and screaming, in frustration during the stage of anger. I can remember weeks of depression when I physically felt too heavy to get out of bed. My house, my life all became a mess during this stage. I finally found freedom and happiness again through acceptance.
Five years ago the life of my family changed forever. In 2012, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and my Mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Both of these neurological disorders are a chronic illness. The diagnosis of a chronic illness can cause anger, stress, and anxiety. Each family member dealt with our feelings in different ways.
My brother isolated himself and stayed away from family gatherings, and my Aunt kept saying, “There could be a cure soon!” My grandmother prayed for a miracle. I started to research the best diet and supplements that could be beneficial to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients. Each of us played different roles as we dealt with these life-changing diagnoses.
I can remember what my Mom said, “I can’t let this stop me. I am going to do what I can do to the best of my ability.” She has done this. Each day despite losing more and more of her independence she keeps going. Many times I have told her that she inspires me to be a better person each day. She replies, “You cannot let the bad defeat you or you will miss out on the good.” Each day there are small blessings we just have to take the time to notice them.
The Power of Acceptance
Chronic illness is defined as an ongoing illness or disease that lasts longer than three months. It is estimated that over 700 million people suffer from a chronic illness worldwide. This is important to remember because it means that you are not alone. In the United States alone, forty percent of the population has been diagnosed with a chronic illness. This number is predicted to rise drastically within the next few years.
If you are living with chronic pain or illness, it may feel like you are alone. At times you may feel lonely and isolated as life is going on around you. Remember to talk with someone when you feel like this. My Mom, who is usually optimistic has said, “Some days are a lot longer than other days.” She says this on the days when she has the most trouble moving. When her feet are frozen to the floor and she is stuck in her chair. We talk a lot these days.
Recently, we found out that my Mom’s Parkinson’s disease has progressed to the later stages. At the rehabilitation center, my Mom whispered, “I am not doing so good.” I said, “I know Mom and it is okay.” I told her that the rest of her life should be about seeing the people she loves and doing the things she wants to do. My husband and I opened a small craft store. Being creative my Mom spends her days making pillows, aprons, and wreaths. I help her when her fingers fail her.
We have accepted the time she has left. We are ready to love, to celebrate, and enjoy each day we are given together. When you are chronically ill do not beat yourself up for what you can no longer do. Instead embrace, love, and accept yourself for what you can do. It is here that you will find joy and happiness. It is okay if not every day is a good day. Be kind to yourself on your worst days. These are the days when you need the most love and encouragement.
I always tell myself how proud I am of my Mom for all that she does. My Dad fought Alzheimer’s for five years. I can remember, in the hospital, he was watching my daughter dance. He looked at her then to each of us and said, “This is love!” That moment was all about love. Acceptance is not about giving up but instead enjoying and embracing the days you do have. In acceptance, we find that we learn to accept and love ourselves all over again.
Acceptance is an Active Practice
For the past five years, I have been taking care of my parents who both have a neurological disorder. The strength, perseverance, and hope my parents possess inspire me to be a better person each day. It brings me great joy to listen, encourage, and help others. I feel that this is my life’s purpose. In my free time, I create upcycled art pieces, hike, and dabble in photography.