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The Limits of Understanding a Loved One's Chronic Illness

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The Bible (Proverbs 3:5-6) tells us to not lean unto our own understanding, yet, most find it difficult, nearly impossible, to think like God.

If only our loved ones could understand us, we’d feel a bit better. Or, would it be helpful to our well-being if we could understand their misunderstanding of us? The distinction between the two mindsets is striking at best.

Living life with multiple chronic illnesses poses challenges we never asked for, challenges that forever changed our lives.

To see and know what others are going through is just one side of an incomplete storyline. But, do we ever get to the understanding phase? Maybe not.

A mother who loves her ill child may never understand. A father who is the caretaker of a parent overcome with aging and infirmity may never understand. A husband who cares for his sickened wife may have a hard time accepting their challenging lifestyle. Whether you’re a friend, family member or intimate partner of someone who has been afflicted by disease, try to educate yourself on how to best support them in alignment with your capabilities.

I remember when my family and I went through my first brain surgery, just five years ago, we had no idea what to expect of the situation nor what to expect from one another. I was scared shit and I take it they were too just as much. We didn’t know what to say. My point is, whatever the challenge, the support given from all involved parties is what helps us through. It’s no easy process to process bad news.

Are they to be considerate toward us or are we to be considerate toward them? A candle that burns from both ends. Hot wax that burns the skin of some and merely coats the skin for others. When chronic illness invades a family, it can create unimaginable chaos. Confusion stows, empathy is faux and understanding never to surface.

Digger deeper into understanding, one must be clear on its meaning. According to our well-known Merriam-Webster dictionary,

• to grasp the meaning of
• to grasp the reasonableness of
• to have thorough or technical acquaintance with or expertness in the practice of
• to be thoroughly familiar with the character and propensities of
• to interpret in one of several possible ways

as a verb

• to have understanding: have the power of comprehension
• to achieve a grasp of the nature, significance, or explanation of something
• to believe or infer something to be the case
• to show a sympathetic or tolerant attitude toward something

Now that we have a bit more clarity, we can know what to expect of others who have an understanding of what it’s like to awake in the middle of the night not able to breathe, drenched in cold sweat and frightened as if you’d just seen a ghost, and it not be an occasional nightmare as the cause. This episodic freak out occurs at least three to four times a week, even during naps. Panic attacks can occur anytime. Or perhaps, the doc just informed you that your latest labs showed reactive to HIV antibodies. Yikes! You mean to tell me you understand what that’s like, for me to live with a diagnosis so stigmatized in our society?

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Surely you may relate to receiving devastating news about your health, but we need to be careful of our choice of words and our expectation of interpretation of such word choice because who can really understand, other than those who know what it’s like based upon their own experience? I bet we all will get through our dilemmas less disappointed if we leave understanding out of it. Stop admitting to understanding when you do not and as chronic illness warriors, how about we check our expectations at the same door where those awful diagnoses so rudely invaded us.

By minimizing our expectations of our family, friends and whoever we allow in our circles, there is less probability of disappointment when they fall short. We all fall short somewhere along the lines of life. After all, we are all works in progress.

Are you understanding the misunderstanding of others?

Wishing you all healing Mighties!

Originally published: August 21, 2020
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