Illness is, almost without exception, a struggle that is common to all of us. Whether chronic or acute, through personal experience or that of a loved one, temporary or terminal, it is challenging to imagine any life completely untouched by illness. And that feature of this struggle makes another feature of it so confounding: illness can often be utterly isolating. It can feel as though it separates a person from family, friends, and even themselves. It can lead to scary, existential questions, messy legal fights, and complicated logistical realities that challenge even strong family units.
Through all of this, though, we are all better served by remembering the commonality fundamental to human illness. In doing so, we are more likely to do the things that we know make illness easier to bear. Things like asking for (and accepting) help when we need it and helping others when we can. The research on caregivers is clear and decisive — support from family, friends, and professional aids improve quality of life for both the cared-for and the caregiver. Such support does not eliminate the challenges associated with illness but can be an incredibly important component of coping with them.
Communities are especially well-positioned to organize this sort of supportive function, but individual members must still do the work of connecting to and following through on those things that members with illness and their caregivers need. Communities must also remember that, as Dr. Pauline Boss beautifully details in her books, the journey of illness and loss (even if that loss is only of a previous level of functioning or style of life) is rarely short and linear. Support is still needed after the shock of the diagnosis fades.
Adjusting to the changes brought on by illness is a complicated mental, emotional, and behavioral process that varies both within and between people, even those struggling with the same illness. Though these complications and idiosyncrasies often contribute to the isolating effect of illness, they need not if we can address them and our reactions to them in a forthright and honest fashion. By doing so, we can take the opportunity granted by illness — the opportunity to be loving, caring, and connected — to highlight the best of us.
Nick Finnegan Counseling Center Series
Throughout the sermon series, Getting Through the Storms, licensed therapists from the Nick Finnegan Counseling Center (NFCC) write to help us understand what happens to us when we experience betrayal, illness, grief, and guilt and shame.
Part of St. Luke’s, Nick Finnegan Counseling Center’s mission is to help people of all beliefs address emotional stress by connecting them with professional counseling, support groups and referrals. For more information about the counselors and services, visit finnegancounseling.org or call 713-402-5046.