Gifts that Illness Brings
Cherishing the true gifts of this holiday season.
By Deanna Glick
Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for dLife.com and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!
December 2009 — It is most certainly the season of giving. This month, various celebrations will include boxes wrapped in colorful paper and ribbon with goodies inside as well as immaterial exchanges of kindness and love. For me, this particular season is about the latter more than any other that came before. It's about the gifts that illness brings.
As I write this, I am just a few feet away from my mother as she rests on her couch, eyes closed, bravely and gracefully battling ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Symptoms of her illness appeared just two months before my baby was born and the diagnosis came nine months later. Since then, she's lost almost half her weight and her ability to speak, eat, and move most of her body.
It is the most precious gift that I am here at this moment, giving of myself in a way that demands that diabetes takes a back seat. That's not to say I'm not testing or bolusing. But that's about the extent of it. I realize this is a good reason why I take care of myself the rest of the time. Because when life truly gets in the way – more than in the way of a whining toddler, dinners that need cooking, deadlines that must be met, parties that need to be planned and gifts that should be purchased and wrapped – I can then find the untapped well deep within my soul and draw on it. My kidneys might take even more of a beating for a while, my liver might be too busy processing a gin and tonic every so often to help out with a falling blood sugar or I might gain a few pounds from perfunctory meals and juice to treat lows, but I will survive it.
I have often considered my own illness a gift. I have transformed from someone who considered life a series of random happenings to a believer in fate and purposeful but unchosen and sometimes painful paths that lead to truth, love and deep meaning that brings a peace otherwise unknown. Every mother loves her child, but I do believe that having diabetes and controlling it throughout my pregnancy, has given me a greater appreciation for being a mother and my child's good health.
I believe my mother has come to know the gifts that illness brings as well. In the early days of her illness, when my mother's speech had failed, she worked tirelessly to learn sign language and help her granddaughter do the same in order to communicate with her new cherished family member. Now, my mother is no longer able to move her hands enough to use all she learned, but she and my daughter continue to use an unspoken sort of language that includes smiles and giggles that leave the air thick with love.
And although our illnesses are very different in many ways, most importantly that my mother's is terminal while mine is controllable, my mother and I have been able to share the pain and humor that only those who have compromised health can understand. We both have tubes running into our bodies; hers delivers nourishment while mine infuses insulin. We've both navigated the health care system enough to understand that it has nothing to do with health. And in the mother and daughter relationship that can sometimes be complicated and difficult, we have found an interesting level of understanding. Of course this is not to say that I wouldn't purge my mother's or my illness from our bodies if I could. But I believe she and I and my daughter have experienced a love that is stronger and more peaceful than we could have ever known if not for the horror of it all. A strange irony to be sure.
I'll cherish the gift of this holiday season long after my mom succumbs to her illness.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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