ASK ABDI: HOW TO DEAL WITH OVERWHELMING GRIEF AND LOSS?
QUESTION: I have dealt with a chronic illness for many decades. I became ill in college, and am now in my 40s. It seems as if my whole life has been dedicated to getting well. I am unable to do many things that others take for granted. I always believed I would get better, but now I do not know. I have lost the hope or faith that once kept me going. I also feel that the exhaustion and loss after loss has taken away that spark. In the acceptance that this may be all there is for me, there is much grief. In dealing with long-term illness or illness that separates one from a “normal social life”, how does one continue to have faith? I find myself often not wanting to be here just because it is so hard. I have the personality of a fighter, and perhaps I thought that if I fought enough or went to this healer or that healer or doctor I would get “better”. I now see that there is no magic healing and this may be my lot in life. I never finished college or had a career, and will not be able to have children. At this point I want to be able to function “normally”. I see that that may never happen now and I don’t think I’ve ever allowed myself to just accept that. How does one deal with the grief and loss that can seem so overwhelming, since I have realized this?
ANSWER: My heart goes out to you for your deep suffering. Chronic illness, for as long as you have been dealing with, wears down every aspect of our body/mind/spirit. The lack of compassion of others, as time progresses, is also painful. It is crucial that you are getting emotional support as you are facing these realizations, so you are not climbing this mountain on your own. Faith is an easy thing to have when things are going well, from the ego’s perspective. A little harder but still doable when an issue is not going well for a while, but might have a chance to do so down the road. But in the face of such prolonged suffering, very few can still keep faith. So instead of working on having faith, work on acceptance. You write, “At this point I want to be able to function 'normally'. I see that that may never happen now and I don’t think I’ve ever allowed myself to just accept that.” See what happens if you give that a chance.
Acceptance is not defeat nor is it giving up. It is a change of perspective from one mode of action: doing, to another: being. That is hard work and is rarely approached unless we are pummeled into helplessness. Be it emotional or physical, very few of us enter this relationship unless we have suffered deeply enough. You have suffered from all of the horrible things this illness has brought you. Examine if there is anything else you can learn from it.