Recently, a woman who had lost her mother and father in the last two
years expressed how tired she was of always feeling anxious and fearful.
Her losses had brought home the fact that the people she loved were
all going to die. It could be anytime and anywhere. The possibility of
facing the loss of her husband or one of her children was constantly
invading her thoughts. She was tired and stressed all the time.

Her words were all too familiar. They brought me back to the time between
my husband’s Stage IV cancer diagnosis and his death 3½ years later.
When Greg’s cancer was discovered, it had already spread to other
organs. The doctor was understandably hesitant to share a prognosis of 6
months with a 37 year-old man, his wife and three young children.
Being youthful and otherwise strong, Greg fought for his life and even
managed to rally for periods of time during those years. He was up and
down, riding that roller coaster of cancer and chemotherapy. He bounced
back quickly after the initial surgery and was back to work in just a
few weeks. He tolerated the weekly chemo treatments pretty well, but
after several months he would develop a complication, become quite ill
and be admitted to the hospital for care. He would recover, come home,
go back to work and the whole cycle would start over.

Every time he had a downturn, I was afraid. Would this be the time that he
wouldn’t recover? This fear was normal and realistic. The feelings of
fear that troubled me more were the thoughts that occurred during the
“good” times. Times when Greg was feeling well, working a normal
schedule, and involved with the family. I kept worrying that this
normalcy was just an illusion and was often overcome with dread and deep
sadness that our future together most likely would not last long. It
was debilitating. I desperately needed to find a way to face this fear
and hold on to optimism, while still maintaining a realistic outlook on
our situation.

I did manage to find an answer. One afternoon when the dread hit me, I thought about how much regret I would have later, when the worst did occur. I didn’t want to look back later, when
he was dying or had died and think “Why didn’t I appreciate life and
feel happy when things were good?” These were the days for rejoicing
and thankfulness. They would end much too soon. I needed to squeeze
every bit of joy and love out of them that I possible could. I knew
that I would have plenty of time to be horribly miserable then. I
promised myself that I could wallow in it when he died. But I was not
going to be miserable now!

Fear is paralyzing if we let it take control of our lives. Yes, we will all die someday, but in the
meantime, we must focus on the joy of living. Even faced with the
knowledge of his impending death, my husband chose to take joy in his
life and his family. He never wanted to be "written off" but wanted to
live every day to the fullest.

Fear is an exhausting emotion. It takes up all of our energy. So here's the challenge: What good can we
do with that energy? Are we afraid that we'll lose another loved one?
Then carve out more time to spend with that person. Appreciate his/her
qualities and try to find more joy in that relationship. Are we afraid
of our own death? Then take our energy and help others who are already
facing death. Volunteer at a hospice. Help out at a hospital. The
dying have a great deal to teach the living.

Our courage is what will help us conquer the pain of death. Courage is not the absence of
fear, but the choice to go forth in spite of the fear. Courage is facing fear.
We must consider ourselves participants in life as long as we have
this gift of life. Make a difference, live to the fullest, find joy –
these are the things that will release us from the regrets of fear.

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