Serious family illness can teach valuable lessons

I went out on a date with my new wife, Candace, last week. A date may strike you as small beans, but for us, it was a very big deal because since October 2 she has been recovering from difficult brain surgery to clamp off an aneurysm. The surgery was three weeks after our delightful wedding. Recovery has been difficult and painful, complete with double vision.

Everywhere I look these days I seem to find medical crises that create incredible tension and challenge for my friends and their families. Few of us get a pass on major medical issues and my experience with Candace crystallized some important truths that may be helpful for others.

One of the most important ones is that friends standing with you is invigorating and comforting beyond understanding. Four dear friends sat with me during the surgery and one, Gregory,  surprised me by flying to Phoenix from Sacramento just to sit with me. Candace was exuberant to know I had that kind of backing but her friends have flocked to her side too. Flowers and cards have bolstered her day after day. One of her closest friends, Cathy, sent almost daily cards, and some days two cards. We’ve gently joked about her apparent obsession, but at the worst moments of healing, the love vibes behind Cathy’s cards are palpable and sustaining. That kind of support prevents you from crawling into yourself and from dwelling in self-pity.

A second lesson is that it is important to live in the present and not in the past. I was sorely tempted to conflate Candace’s health crises with the fatal health journey of my late wife Jean. I tried to fight against the temptation to relive that experience as I worried about, prayed for and cheered for my dear Candace. It was probably natural to compare and contrast the two experiences but it’s a fool’s game. You cannot possibly equate two different health cases and it only leads to futile worry and stress. Deal with what you have in hand and don’t make it worse.

Another important lesson learned is patience. As far as medicine has come, recovery from serious surgery is just damned hard. Between overcoming the effects of surgery, recovering energy, dealing with serious pain and anxiety over being “normal” again, the convalescence takes a great toll on the patient and yes, the caregiver too. It is easy to say “relax and be patient,” it is much harder to do so. Celebrate small forward steps and keep the big picture of healing in mind.

Perhaps the key lesson during recovery is gratitude. In our case, a doctor discovered the aneurysm when he was looking for the cause of an ear problem. It was fortuitous beyond belief. Then we found out that the aneurysm was very close to bursting when it was clamped. Call it blind luck if you wish, but Candace and I believe there was a Divine hand looking out for her, and for me. Whenever Candace struggles, and my heart bleeds for her, we grab each others hand and remind each other how lucky and blessed we are.

We know Candace and our marriage has caught a big break and we’re thrilled about it. The final lesson to learn is how we can take advantage of our fresh new opportunities by  converting our gratitude into action.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance