Processing the Grief of Chronic Illness
Grief often hits you when you least expect it. It’s never convenient and it’s almost always messy. Grief comes as a result of loss. In this case, it’s the loss of our life as we knew it, the loss of who we were and the dreams we had to let go of. Chronic illness is a thief that robs us of so much!
I think the strongest times of grief are soon after our diagnosis and we’ve had some time to let that sink in. We are not often prepared for the waves that threaten to drown us. We need to acknowledge and work our way through it, not stuff it down. Although painful at the time, we will get to a healthier place faster by facing it head on. There is a fine line between the past and an emerging new and different you. You are still you, it’s just that the packaging is different.
You are not less than, just different than. As we are all well aware, it’s hard to let go of one and embrace the other. I think we will always go through seasons of loss, but the times between become farther apart, and less painful over time.
What are some of the things we grieve over? Loss of energy and strength, loss of a job, loss of friends and/or a spouse, the inability to accomplish all that we used to, running on empty more than we like, physical autonomy, being able to parent the way we want and the guilt related to all of those.
You may be asking yourself what you did to deserve this diagnosis. You may be thinking that your life is over, or at the very least, it will never be the same again. You did nothing to deserve this. I chose a couple of years ago to look at my diagnosis as a gift and an opportunity to encourage others as we travel this unpredictable road called chronic illness.
Getting to the place of accepting this does not mean you’re saying you’re OK with it. It just says you are willing to make the best of it. You’re willing to accept it for what it is. I think it’s always a good idea to take stock occasionally of where we are in this journey, and see how we can use this to make a difference in the lives of others. Constant introspection can be debilitating. Let’s be outward and other-focused, all the while loving ourselves enough to invest in good self-care.
Don’t be afraid of grief – think of it as being on a roller coaster. At times you will be afraid, and at times you really will still feel joy.