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

Friends are a life changer and I am grateful I now get that

A sensational story on ESPN’s web site this week  put a bounce in my step because it reinforced the glories of friendship in our lives. Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow are long-time baseball buddies and now they are broadcast partners for the Giants. Their friendship bond is undeniable as you read their story.

Things have been complicated in recent years because Krukow developed a muscle disorder called body inclusion myositis. Krukow’s life has been complicated but not the friendship with Kuiper.

I think if you read that story  you will be moved, not only by the Krukow-Kuiper friendship, but by every friendship that marks your own life. I was.

Of course, I have many regrets about my wife Jean’s death, but a huge one is that she missed the outpouring of friendship by her friends, our friends, my friends and our children’s friends. Tragedy and sorrow often bring out the best in the people close to you just like Krukow’s illness has prompted Kuiper to be an even better friend than before.

The words, actions and support of my friends has, without question, been the secret to my hope and faith that better days lie ahead.

I hope I have always appreciated my friends but the last three months have made me conscious of their goodness and value on an almost daily basis. As I go through the process of overcoming grief I try to remain focused on nurturing and tending those friendships. The question I ask myself every day is “Am I being attentive to those friends needs and am I doing for them what they did for me.” That’s not because friendship should be a quid pro quo but because the way to keep those friends is to constantly show them they are valued.

The most tragic event of my life has made me more appreciative and more comfortable that friendship is the lifeline we all need to survive the sorrows we find on this spaceship we call Earth. Grab on to yours and hold them tight.