“The pain of lost dreams is too much for any human soul to bear.” Small Island (PBS 2009)
The recent celebration of Easter – which embodies the truest concept of life, death, and resurrection, has caused me to further examine something I’ve been grappling with for a while now; the death of our “Life Dreams.” When a baffling chronic illness and secondary conditions literally derailed my body and health, and, our lives about 10 years ago (I say “our” because when one spouse/parent becomes seriously ill in a family, everyone is affected), we quickly learned how fragile and unpredictable life truly is. As the months and years transpired, and we searched for a diagnosis and a cure, I had dozens of near death moments – some in hospital ER’s and some at home. We became very familiar with the sobering choices of calling an ambulance and going through the often frightening and frustrating experience of an emergency room (because when your health is failing from an undiagnosed chronic illness, treatment is typically more “miss” then “hit.”) Our other choice was to call our closest loved ones -- those who could handle the erratic highs and lows of someone battling the unknown in a quest to stay alive and hopefully recover, and, our Reverend and church family to pray for, and with, us.
Struggling to outwit death wasn’t the only battle we became familiar with. As time went on and tens of thousands of dollars were spent in our quest for my healing, we began to experience the death of our dreams…the plans we had made for our marriage and family, for my work and career, even our retirement, were slipping away. After I left my personal training and physical re-conditioning studio and my COBRA ran out, we were unable to get health insurance due to the fact that I was ill (pre-existing conditions). My husband, William, was self-employed as a writer and speaker, so we didn’t have access to a group policy. Subsequently, every medication, every visit to a specialist, every medical test, went straight out of our pockets. We were not able to sell our beautiful home quick enough in a slowed economy and helplessly watched as the bank foreclosed. As I battled the illnesses, we also saw the decline of my body in my physical strength and appearance. William took on various extra jobs including substitute teaching and a brief stint in the retail fitness business (which was a miserable experience for him) to help defray the exorbitant costs of “the illnesses.” I felt like such a burden as he also struggled to balance graduate school with all else he had to do. His goal was to finish as quickly as possible so he could get “a job with benefits” to better afford his wife’s illness.
There were plenty of physical, material, and financial losses but the most gut wrenching, painful loss in this whole ordeal has been the loss of our life dreams and plans. We stopped talking to adoption agencies as we realized our hope to adopt a child in need of a loving family, was no longer a possibility. Book projects and lecture series had to be canceled and our dream to travel one day to Ireland and Egypt vaporized. After 20 years of living in a “home,” we struggled to live in an apartment with carpet that left my immune system even weaker due to newly acquired chemical and allergy sensitivities. Our hopes to help our daughter through college were relegated to small tokens here and there and her relying heavily on some scholarship money and school loans. The regular donations we made to charities that were near and dear to our hearts, shrunk to small random tokens, and we actually debated whether or not to ask one of these organizations for help in our struggle.
We had always leaned upon our faith for strength but at times even that seemed to fail us. We believed in thinking and speaking positive affirmations and still, after everything, believe in the power of loving thoughts and prayer. When one visit to the ER ended up in a week’s stay at a hospital where I was placed (against our better wishes) upon extremely high doses of prednisone, the devastating side effects seemed to be more than we could bear. My once healthy bones became so brittle that after 6 months, spontaneous fractures had occurred in my hip, ribs, and low back, and I was no longer able to share that simple but sweet evening walk with my husband. My new mode of activity was relegated to a wheelchair or walker. William printed a poster with a photo of me from a nutrition & cooking workshop event I presented a couple of years earlier (featuring a much leaner, fitter, and happier “Before Prednisone” me) and placed it on our bedroom door. The caption read, “This is The REAL You!” But after surgery for cataracts and sobering brushes with breathtaking heart pains – later diagnosed as “unstable angina” (more damaging effects of prednisone) we came to a moment of reckoning; I was probably never going to feel, be, or look, like that woman in the photo again. We sadly agreed to say good-bye to that woman that I had been for most of my life, and threw away that poster. We also realized that we were saying good-bye to most of the dreams we had had for the way our lives would work out. It was time to “put to rest” those plans and to allow ourselves to openly grieve those losses. At that time there was a mini-series on television I was watching called Small Island (PBS 2009) and one of the main characters said, “The pain of lost dreams is too much for any human soul to bear.” I cried from the depths of my soul and from every place in my heart as I thought of those words and said “good-bye” to our own lost dreams.
The grieving process has taken some time and still ebbs and flows like the tide, but we’ve slowly begun to embrace the “Easter Factor.” The only salvation from the death of our life dreams is the birth of new life dreams. While it’s essential to experience our grief over such losses, it does not mean that we have to lose all hope. In fact, it is even the smallest glimmer of hope that can give us the strength to rise up from those ashes of death and resurrect new dreams…to birth new life plans. As time unfolds, we are learning to form new possibilities for our lives; still allowing for the miracle of healing while also taking into consideration what we have here and now.
Has an illness, injury, or other set-back caused you (and your loved ones) to lose sight of your life dreams? How have you handled this loss? Have you been able to resurrect or re-birth new dreams?
We welcome your insights and comments.