There are plenty of resources to help us navigate many of life’s biggest journeys. Wedding planners to neatly record what to do before those memorable steps down the aisle. Baby books with detailed “road maps” of the stages of a child’s development toward adulthood. Blogs of personal experiences of finding a job, packing up and moving, or starting a business.
True, these helpers don’t answer all of our questions. But most of these events have a recognizable beginning, middle and end. And with careful planning, researching and help from others, we can have a reasonable idea of where our feet are traveling from and to.
One of the life events we or our loved ones might go through, however, can be much more opaque: receiving a catastrophic diagnosis and living through the time that unfolds afterward.
With the words of the diagnosing physician still fresh in our minds, we immediately ask, “What’s to come?” … but ready, sure answers are often slippery things. Even if we have a fixed course of treatment, we might find, apart from the regularity of doctor appointments and other medical matters, the rest of life seems to change in ways we could never expect and, often, do not like. Our feet, far from steady, might falter along the unfamiliar path.
Now 20 years into my life-changing diagnosis of lupus, I recognize the signs of strain in others not nearly as far along in the journey. The question, “What can I expect,” asked so earnestly that I know it’s really, “Tell me this will be easy.” Or, the same question asked by a loved one of the person newly diagnosed, reflecting the same hopeful anxiety that all will be well.
Lupus, like many illnesses, is so unpredictable and individual that of course I cannot provide a road map. But although we cannot know exactly what to expect, there are fixed realities we can rely on, and things we can do along with working with our doctors.
The first reality to embrace and never let go of is faith. Faith that God is present no matter what and faith that even if the going is terribly difficult, the soul inside each of us is teeming with light, love and grace.
The more we work on building our awareness of this throughout the days and nights in an illness journey, the stronger we become — for ourselves and others. I am always amazed at how, in especially tough patches, strength forged in faith rises to the occasion!
The second reality that often surprises in a very good way is that within suffering, there are places for gratitude and joy. Pain can blind us to this sometimes, but it is all the more important that we consciously seek to be thankful and find even small cause for a smile.
Third is the reality that people do care that you suffer, that someone you love suffers. Human nature being what it is, we will encounter people who are not always kind or compassionate. But near and far there are others who want and do extend God’s love. If we maintain trust, we shall find them, or they will find us, and we will be enveloped in wonderful blessings flowing from that firm fellowship.
Is it possible to know what to expect when a diagnosis comes? Not entirely. But our faith does provide firm footing to carry us on and through in hope.
Pratt is a columnist for Catholic News Service.