Last year on my birthday I danced the night away with friends celebrating my 55th trip around the sun like it might be my last. Of course, I didn’t think it could be my last. I felt great. Sure, I still had lupus (because you don’t outgrow that) but I was doing great. I honestly felt a tad invincible.
I wouldn’t have predicted just a few months later I’d be concerned I might not make it to 56. Concerned is really not the right word—more like terrified. One night while I was quarantined, I remember my Dad calling to see how I was and I could barely speak with my asthma-bronchitis-pneumonia-laryngitis quad pack. When I answered he said, “You don’t sound good. How bad is it?”
“We can talk tomorrow,” he said.
I hung up thinking I hope tomorrow comes. It has to come I kept telling myself. Who will take care of my Mom if I can’t? I woke up to a text message from him saying, “I’m worried about you.” I replied saying I was too.
As my health kept deteriorating, I started having conversations with my sweetie about arrangements I needed to make so he could take care of my Mom. The only thing that emotionally made that bearable was that my Mom was blissfully ignorant about it. When I would call to check on her, she would say with surprise, “Are you sick?” In those moments’ dementia felt like a gift.
The worry for the rest of my family has taken a toll. While I’m much better now, I still have lingering issues that at times are debilitating. I’m functional which keeps the volume down on the worry but Luke and Chase sometimes ask me multiple times in a day how I’m doing. There’s definitely some post-traumatic stress going on.
This week that was on full display when the boy’s super healthy grandmother experienced a heart attack. The shock wave it sent through our family made all our hearts quiver. Chase, the boy with the golden heart, struggled the most. When I told him, his eyes widened and tears started to form. He puts his hands to his heart and I could see he was starting to shake.
I immediately donned my Comforter-in-Chief hat and started telling him all the things that were working in his grandma’s favor. It was a purely instinctual response. Mother’s have an amazing ability to conjure up a bowl full of hope as if it were ice cream hidden in the freezer for just such an occasion. The boy wrapped his arms around me relieved that I’d put his mind at ease.
I noticed as the week progressed that his older brother, who is a little more stoic, kept asking me similar questions and my experience of living with these two hyper-vigilant worriers paid off. They would express a concern and I would immediately ask them to pause a minute and think about what I was telling them before they dove into the feeling pit.
The irony was that by Thursday night when I was absolutely exhausted and struggling with my own health, I couldn’t do what I was asking them to do. I knew I had a doctor’s appointment the next day to discuss my MRI findings and hard as I tried, I couldn’t feel hopeful.
In the morning, when I started down the stairs, I noticed someone had put a penny on the top of the bannister for me to find. I can only assume it was Chase but I didn’t ask. I just made my latte and sat down and asked God what He wanted me to think about.
The message came quickly. Hope is not a feeling God reminded me. It’s a mindset you cultivate. Just like you’ve coached your children over the years to stop and look for hope you need to do the same.
Later in the day, waiting for the doctor, I started thinking about how you actually go about that. Reactivity is hardwired into us as part of our flight or fight response. It goes against the grain to not react to something. So, how do you free yourself from this evolutionary response?
It occurs to me that the trick is stretching out the space between what stimulates your fear and choosing how you’re going to respond to. Life isn’t actually a tennis match where you have to keep the volley going. You can stop, breathe, meditate, and decide how you’re going to respond. Then if you want to find hope you will.
Maybe this is what months of waiting on specialists and test results has been meant to teach me—that hope can be found in a “waiting space” if you’re willing to pause long enough to let it bubble up. I don’t like this. However, if I’m going to make another full rotation around the sun, which I believe is possible, a good way to start is by choosing not to respond with fear when things get a little warm.