Each month Kathleen Clohessy, R.N., offers a new perspective on living with a terminal illness. Kathleen comes to SevenPonds with 25 years experience as a registered nurse caring for families and children facing life-threatening illness. She began her career in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Nassau County Medical Center in New York. After relocating to California, she spent 15 years as an R.N. and Assistant Nurse Manager at the Pediatric Oncology & Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at Lucille Salter Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. She uses her extensive knowledge and expertise to enlighten our readers about the challenges associated with chronic illness and their effects on family relationships and human dynamics.
Through my research, I found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It’s the magic sauce. ~ Brene Brown
Living with a terminal illness is fraught with physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges. In the beginning, physical symptoms are typically front and center, as the person is carried off in the tidal wave of medical consultations, treatments, and tests. Soon afterward, the massive reality of life-limiting illness sets in, and the roller coaster of emotions — sadness, fear, anger, guilt and regret, to name just a few — begins.
But as time wears on, the challenges become less acute. With treatment, physical symptoms subside, or they become more manageable. The emotional roller coaster, although still running, slows down a bit. Life goes on much as it did before. Yet for the person who is ill, it is fundamentally changed.
Being sick is life-altering. While modern medicine is giving terminally ill patients more time and better quality of life, it is rarely able to restore their lives to what they were before. What’s more, as time wears on, illnesses can and often do become more debilitating. Many people lose the physical stamina to do the things they once accomplished with ease. This loss of function and independence is a major factor in the spiritual ennui that many patients feel. Life can seem meaningless when we can no longer do the things that nurtured and sustained our feelings of self worth.
That’s the time when being truly vulnerable can be the glue that holds us together and allows us to heal.
“Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.” ~ Brene Brown
What does it mean to be vulnerable? Oddly, vulnerability does not equate with weakness, as many of us believe. Being vulnerable, in fact, takes a tremendous amount of courage — a willingness to be open, authentic, honest, and real. It means taking off the mask and letting our broken hearts show.
Vulnerability is essential to all healthy human relationships. But when you are sick and hurting, it can quite literally mean the difference between hope and despair. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you open your heart to the understanding that it’s OK not to be the person you were a year ago. You accept that it’s OK to be who you are now, even if that person is needy and afraid. And when you do that, you can open to the love and kindness of those who want to help. You can connect to others in an entirely new and beautiful way.
Connection is at the core of true happiness. Connection to the people we love is medicine for the soul. Even for those who face a life-limiting illness and the proximity of death, it has an uncanny power to heal.
“I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.” Brene Brown