The specter of fear seems to have made its presence known upon planet earth. Due to Covid-19, humanity has been suffering various amounts of discomfort, anxiety, worry or fear. Our planet has never been immune to the emotion of fear, however when the entire globe is affected in numerous ways, we need to address it. Learning how fear can be transformed, as well as what the opposite of fear seems to be, can go a long way toward abolishing or at least reducing this negative emotion. I have been no stranger to the concept of fear.
In mid-summer of 2009, I was feeling self-conscious and mildly fearful. As a teacher, I had been finding classroom discussions increasingly difficult. Lunch time banter was occasionally misinterpreted. My hearing wasn’t what it use to be. Following a good sized investment in hearing instruments, I began enjoying “normal” hearing again, but was worried of what others would think if they knew I wore hearing aids. I will never forget what our son told me when I quietly let him know my predicament. His response was, “Mom, at least you know what is wrong with you and how to make it better.” That immediately put my puny health issue into perspective. Our son had been suffering from puzzling digestive issues for two years. He didn’t know what was ailing him, and what’s more, neither did any doctors.
Fast forwarding to the first day of school that fall, we received a 6 a.m. phone call from our son’s wife. (She considerately did not want to wake us too early.) As she worked nights, she wasn’t home when our son decided to drive himself to the hospital in the dark of the night. He was in excruciating pain, very nearly blacking out on the drive. Even though it wasn’t optimal to miss the first day of school with my students, we decided it was much more important to be with our son.
There were all sorts of tests and potential diagnoses. Initially, his liver demanded attention, so they placed a stent in his bile duct to allow his liver to properly drain. In fact, because the stent repeatedly became dislodged, he had this done three different times! A surgeon was absolutely certain it was his gallbladder, so it was removed. Following this surgery, the gallbladder surgeon assured us it would solve all our son’s issues. It did not. Our son endured countless scopes and biopsies. Fortunately, the doctor heading his case was transferring out of town. The new head doctor was a refreshing change. He doggedly pursued causes rather than treating symptoms. A month and a half following our son’s drive to the hospital, he received a preliminary diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
I literally saw a house of cards collapse in my mind’s eye. My husband and I were devastated. We would much rather have had it be one of us rather than one of our children. He was only 31 years old.
Our son, however seemed to be relieved just to have a diagnosis. He knew something was desperately wrong, but he felt empowerment in knowing what it was, just as he had assured me with my health issue. It remained to be seen whether anything could be done about it. In retrospect, this took me back to when our son was a little boy. He enjoyed watching G.I. Joe cartoons. At the end of the show, it was always stated that “knowing was half the battle.” This knowing felt like progress to him.
Even with this diagnosis it took another two to three weeks of further testing and scheduling before he would undergo a very lengthy, complex surgery called the Whipple procedure. This surgery would entail a pre-exploratory to determine whether to go on to the second phase. The second part of the process would remove parts of his pancreas, stomach and small intestine plus his bile duct. Then this expert team, who did over two hundred of these procedures annually, would have more piecing together to do. Basically the mid-section of the digestive system had to be restructured and reconnected to allow food to properly break down and pass through.
As one could imagine, this was one of the most gut-wrenching fears any parent could experience. Pancreatic cancer is notoriously challenging to diagnose and difficult to survive. We were so afraid of losing our son. While pounds and hair escaped my body, sleep eluded. We were still going through the motions of the workaday world whenever we weren’t at the hospital.
Prayers were frequently flowing from our lips. However, sometimes quite often, I felt far too exhausted to even pray. That is when myriads of churches, friends and relatives from the east coast to the west coast took over holding our son up in prayer. These connections and the support were simultaneously comforting, humbling and lifesaving.
By the time the Whipple procedure rolled around, our son had just turned 32 years old. He was welcomed to the post-surgical suite by close family members and friends. It was a huge, lovely room by any standards, but especially for a hospital room. I recall the space including a cushy, deep brown leather couch, various lounge chairs and of course our son’s bed. By far the best part, besides the support afforded by all present, was our son regaining consciousness following such a harrowing surgical procedure. As many as 25% of Whipple procedure patients died during or shortly after their surgery as recently as the 1970’s, particularly if the surgeons were inexperienced in the procedure.
Yet again, I was taken back to our son’s little boy years. Transformer toys and cartoons were part of his youth. The Transformer character, Optimus Prime stated, “The greatest weakness of most humans is their hesitancy to tell others how they love them while they’re alive.” This gathered group of friends and family were evidence that our son was a fortunate one with many who demonstrated their love for him.
One of my methods for dealing with fear was searching for ways to help our son. Coincidentally, an open, partially read magazine happened to be advertising a CD on energy healing. It has parallels to laying on of hands as well as prayer. This learning path led to quite effective ways to assist our son in managing pain as well as other various symptoms. In fact, while he was in surgical recovery at the hospital, medications were not phasing the pain, however energy healing did. This practice in turn began dissolving my fear.
Once our son returned home, he found a meditation for children to alleviate pain. Merely by visualizing that he was holding a piece of shiny, molten metal in his hand, he was capable of easing his distress enough to fall asleep. By morning, his hands and feet would be sweating! How powerful our imagination can be!
Back in the olden days toward the end of my pregnancy with our son, we attended the very first Star Wars movie. He truly kicked up a storm when the music became loudly dramatic! Our young son always loved playing with Star Wars toys of the era. Han Solo from Empire Strikes Back, bellowed, “Never tell me the odds.” There was never a time during our son’s bout with pancreatic cancer that he allowed any doctors to give him a prognosis. He believed only God knows the day or the hour. Our son as well as many of us were open to miracles – and we got them!
A few months following the Whipple procedure, he actually felt much better than he had for a very long time. Amazingly, he was able to return to heavy duty work as a semi driver delivery guy.
Miraculously, our son and his wife conceived a child some time later. Considering he had six months of chemotherapy following his surgery, they were very fortunate. Prior to their child’s birth, I decided to design a baby quilt with a poem around the perimeter. One of the purposes of my poem was to imagine what wondrous things I would love for this beautiful child soon to be born. The next to the last line of my poem was, “See rainbow beauty on your birth”. I gifted my quilt at their baby shower before the birth.
On a gorgeously toasty March day, our son informed us that his wife was in labor. We drove to the hospital to warm a couple of seats in the waiting room. Shortly after the birth, our son texted us a photo of our healthy, new granddaughter!
Within a minute, our daughter who lived several states away sent us a photo of a newly formed double rainbow! Wow, this was really “See rainbow beauty on your birth”!
Several times our family participated in the pancreatic cancer walks to acknowledge those who dealt with the disease. The slogan is “Know It. Fight It. End It.” Many times, people get into the militaristic mode of fighting an ailment. Later in our son’s illness, he expressed great discomfort over this philosophy. Throughout his journey, he learned to become a person who was accepting of what was within him. When I ponder this, it makes sense because a willingness to welcome what is within ourselves implies being relaxed. If one is in an angry, fighting, ever vigilant mode, this tension would not be conducive to healing. Again, the Empire Strikes Back comes through with, “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”
Our son endured many years of ill health with recurrences and corresponding treatments as well as eventually coping with regulating pancreatic enzymes and insulin dosages. Fortunately, there were also episodes of relative wellness peppered in between. He had three separate diagnoses of cancer with clean scans and markers after each. The fourth time was more than he could handle. Roughly three months prior to his passing, he told me that he just wanted to die. Oh, my heart hurt for him. As much as I thought I couldn’t bear life without him, even more, if it was in my power to release him from his suffering in this earthly realm, I would. Including his two years of symptoms prior to diagnosis, he was with us for an astounding nine years.
Twenty some days prior to our son’s passing, my husband was fortunate to view a bald eagle flying directly over our home! I had read that when one sees an eagle, a good practice is to begin a gratitude journal for twenty-one days listing ten items for each day. I decided to begin my own gratitude journal while our son was home bound in hospice. Oh my goodness, some days it was quite the challenge to think of anything for which I could be thankful. I searched high and low in the nooks and crannies. Perhaps it was a bit of tasty food or a loving, knowing glance. Maybe it was sunny outside, some days I was grateful for the rain. Amazingly, I was able to find ten items each day. The practice served to focus my mind on each individual moment. This was powerful to think that if a mother could be attending to her child in hospice and be thankful, then anyone can.
Since his passing, I’ve discovered that the club of bereaved parents is far larger than I realized. A parent never gets over losing a child. We think of him multiple times daily. There is probably no grief greater than relinquishing an offspring. It is out of the so-called natural order. It appears that there are varying degrees of acceptance of this type of loss. Every parent’s experience is unique.
I am grateful we were granted a slow good-bye to our son. Many are not given that. However, no matter what kind of loss we have endured, whether a loved one, a way of life or one’s own health, we can choose to be grateful. Anything upon which we place our attention tends to multiply. Gratitude begets gratitude. Concentrating on loss multiplies loss. Be grateful for what you had, what you have and what you will have, but mostly be grateful for now.
Since my first agonizing days of fear upon hearing the pancreatic cancer diagnosis, I entered into the classical dark night of the soul. Never in my life had I encountered such fear. In another Star Wars movie, Phantom Menace, Yoda gives one of the best descriptions of fear that I’ve ever encountered. “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.”
Many of the books to which I’m attracted speak of fear as being the opposite of love. Initially, I thought that hate would be the opposite of love. However, when I think of our life force and the energy of these varying emotions, it does make sense to think of fear and love as opposing forces. If we are oozing with hate, we may be shaking with explosive, boiling rage. While we are filled with fear, we may be quivering, withdrawing and not partaking of needs to sustain life. When we are overflowing with love, we are exuding the goodness of life to any and all. This ebb and flow of energy depicted between fear and love seem to be more polar opposites. Our life force energy is drawing inward while experiencing fear whereas our energies are expanding outward when feeling love.
Fear was harming my own health. I wanted to be strong to love and help our son as much as I could. I know that learning to work with life force energy not only gave me a more vital purpose, but it also revealed evidence that we are so much more than our bodies. This energy work skill set at times enables me to faintly see streams of light emitting from within. We only don our human frame as a vehicle in the earthly realm. I wonder if these occasional glimpses of etheric light are sneak peeks of the soul. Another Yoda quote from the Empire Strikes Back states it well, “Luminous beings are we…not this crude matter.” The Holy Bible also confirms this in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world.” Via my experience, I take this quite literally! This knowledge is also instrumental in banishing fear. Let your light shine, it scares away the fear!
These days of coronavirus are certainly trying, however, even in the darkest times a path toward the light can appear. As a teacher, it is quite evident to me that all which happens in our lives is actually part of a life lesson. I found through our son’s wisdom beyond his years that there is comfort in what one knows. Connections of love and prayer are sustaining. Imagining and visualizing the best outcome can bring good things. Acceptance wins over rebellion. Being grateful is possible even during the deepest challenges. Fear can be transformed.
Yes, we are coping with the tragic effects of Covid-19, but we can overcome. Let’s imagine and visualize an even better life-sustaining world with hope, love, peace and joy for the good of all. We must look for the miracles, relax and breathe deep. We can do this!
The book-length polished draft of my memoir is topically similar to this essay. As I am currently seeking agented representation for my memoir, any comments, follows or shares would be appreciated. I am grateful for you! L.M.W.