Best Laid Plans

I have mentioned before the Army saying that “The plan is everything; the plan is nothing.” I’m not sure why it is phrased like that, but the meaning is that the plan is essential, and yet it must have flexibility built into it.

Such is life!

A loved one may suddenly experience a crisis and we shift our attentions and time to them, perhaps becoming a caregiver. More and more attention and resources have been given to caregivers recently, and none too soon. Caregiving is associated with great stress, and I have written about this before.

How many times have you had a plan laid out for your life, and suddenly there is a change–in marital status, or health, in family size, or work? Oh, so many for me! Hardest, are those sudden changes which affect our individual identity. The earth shakes. There is shock, grief, anger, fear, panic. These are all normal and perhaps necessary in order for us to come to terms with the event.

Our available support system is important to identify and to lean on. We may need additional support groups. But these take time to develop because at first we are stunned and feeling intense grief. Who could possibly understand? And even if they do, if many have gone through this, it is still happening to “me.”

When my late husband passed away in 2000 it was as though the entire floor dropped out of my life. My family was incredible, and integral to my healing; they lovingly said I was not alone, but of course, I was in a profound way. Only I knew how I intensely hurt. I refer back to that experience with an allegorical image of having to walk through a tar pit of pain and grief. One cannot go over it or under it or around it. Step by burning step we wade through. Prayers strengthen us, perhaps numb the intensity of the pain so that we can take another step. Support from loved ones on the perimeter encourage us, but there is no escaping the fact that we feel this pain, experiencing this very personal journey. We eventually emerge on the other side, scarred but alive and ready to move on.

At some point, others with similar journeys can give us hope, strength, encouragement and inspiration.

One question I learned as a nursing student, and which I later taught as a preceptor, and then as an instructor, was to ask patients who are experiencing a health crisis if they have a faith life or spiritual support system. It is meant to assess and help them to plan their support system, not to insinuate or evangelize. Spiritual support and faith life increase positive patient outcomes, but if the patient indicates none, we focus on friends and family support.

At the original shock of the crisis, tragedy or event, we may ask, “Why? Why did this happen to me?” It is important not to feel guilty for this because it is human to wonder, to reason. Sometimes the reasoning has no answer: another person went through the stop sign, an environmental event occurred that was beyond our control. An existential “why” may still persist. That is okay.

Step by step we wade the tar pit, at times able to jump a little further and at others, stumbling. Life goes on, sometimes incredulously. Tasks that need to be performed can and sometimes must be delegated. It is important to eat healthy foods when able, and to stay hydrated. We must conserve and build strength.

It is important to keep the immune system strong, to decrease stress hormones. It is important to try to smile, to laugh. Hopefully a loved one will help us to do just that. “Laughter heals the bones,” so a Proverb in the Bible says. Recent studies have proven this to be true. I would say that it also heals the heart and the rest of the body.

It is normal to wonder what is to come. Sometimes it is difficult to avoid catastrophic thinking. This is where it is so important to have a loved one or trusted friend or therapist to whom you can express your worst fears. Crying, railing, ranting, are all okay early on. The time will come to make decisions without quite so much emotion, with more information learned, and with loving support.

Life plans may need to be re-evaluated or altered. There is a grief in each of these that must be dealt with. This is such a journey, this one toward healing. Sometimes the healing is in the body and sometimes not. Often the greatest healing is in our soul, our character. When in the early stages of grief the last thing I wanted to hear was that I would be able to help others some day. Right then I needed to be able to rant and feel miserable for myself for a bit. After dealing with that I could get stronger, little by little. One day in the future I would find that I was on the perimeter of someone else’s individual “tarpit.” And I understood. I was there for them, quietly or constructively helping, offering support, respecting their journey.

If you are going through something tragic or unexpected, my prayers are with you in the journey ahead. Life is truly a gift. None of us knows which day is our last. It is important after the dark, initial shock, to eventually see the good and the beauty around you. It is still there and you are still inextricably a part of it. May God bless you!