There are five stages of grief. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Each of us grieves when dealing with the diagnosis of a chronic illness. I remember yelling and screaming, in frustration during the stage of anger. I can remember weeks of depression when I physically felt too heavy to get out of bed. My house, my life all became a mess during this stage. I finally found freedom and happiness again through acceptance.

My Story

Five years ago the life of my family changed forever. In 2012, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and my Mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Both of these neurological disorders are a chronic illness. The diagnosis of a chronic illness can cause anger, stress, and anxiety. Each family member dealt with our feelings in different ways.

My brother isolated himself and stayed away from family gatherings, and my Aunt kept saying, “There could be a cure soon!” My grandmother prayed for a miracle. I started to research the best diet and supplements that could be beneficial to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients. Each of us played different roles as we dealt with these life-changing diagnoses.

I can remember what my Mom said, “I can’t let this stop me. I am going to do what I can do to the best of my ability.” She has done this. Each day despite losing more and more of her independence she keeps going. Many times I have told her that she inspires me to be a better person each day. She replies, “You cannot let the bad defeat you or you will miss out on the good.” Each day there are small blessings we just have to take the time to notice them.

My Dad, by the time he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, was in the middle stages. On his psychological tests, he would try to put a round peg in a square hole. My Dad enjoyed hiking, biking, traveling, driving, and fixing things. Growing up he did most of our home and car repairs. It was harder for my Dad because he didn’t realize he was sick. When he could no longer go running or drive a car his spirit was crushed. Finally, he said, “I am done fighting.”
 
For four years I drove myself crazy taking the latest supplements and diet craze ideas to my parents. Every time they would try a new supplement or change their diet or take a new medication I held on to hope. My grasp on hope was so firm that I was crushing it. When the new medication or supplement didn’t work I would begin researching Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s again. Each time I restarted my research my spirit and heart sagged a bit more.

The Power of Acceptance

Finally, after my Mom’s second brain surgery and my Dad’s recurrent hospitalizations I realized that I needed to learn acceptance. I needed to accept that both of my parents were chronically ill. Acceptance is not about giving up. It is about coming to terms with the fact that life is different and accepting these differences. It is about accepting your limitations and congratulating yourself for your capabilities. At this stage, I appreciated my parent’s even more for who they are and what they could still do.
 
When my Dad went on Hospice Care I accepted the fact that he no longer remembered me. I remembered him, though. So, I would hold his hand, for hours, and talk about my favorite childhood memories. On days when my Mom wants to go out I put her wheelchair in the trunk of the car. I accept how hard it is for her to walk. In fact, I feel blessed that I can still take her out. She said to me, “I feel a spark of joy when I get out and do the things I love.” We all do!
 
Through acceptance, I have learned that time, all time, passes quickly. Appreciate and look forward to each day. Sometimes the days may seem long and dark, but the light is still shining. We just need to adjust our eyes to see it. I found joy in reading to my Dad, holding his hand, and playing his favorite music as his days were coming to an end. When I see my Mom smile and hug her grandchildren my heart leaps about. Acceptance is appreciating what we still have.

Chronic Illness

Chronic illness is defined as an ongoing illness or disease that lasts longer than three months. It is estimated that over 700 million people suffer from a chronic illness worldwide. This is important to remember because it means that you are not alone. In the United States alone, forty percent of the population has been diagnosed with a chronic illness. This number is predicted to rise drastically within the next few years.

If you are living with chronic pain or illness, it may feel like you are alone. At times you may feel lonely and isolated as life is going on around you. Remember to talk with someone when you feel like this. My Mom, who is usually optimistic has said, “Some days are a lot longer than other days.” She says this on the days when she has the most trouble moving. When her feet are frozen to the floor and she is stuck in her chair. We talk a lot these days.

Recently, we found out that my Mom’s Parkinson’s disease has progressed to the later stages. At the rehabilitation center, my Mom whispered, “I am not doing so good.” I said, “I know Mom and it is okay.” I told her that the rest of her life should be about seeing the people she loves and doing the things she wants to do. My husband and I opened a small craft store. Being creative my Mom spends her days making pillows, aprons, and wreaths. I help her when her fingers fail her.

We have accepted the time she has left. We are ready to love, to celebrate, and enjoy each day we are given together. When you are chronically ill do not beat yourself up for what you can no longer do. Instead embrace, love, and accept yourself for what you can do. It is here that you will find joy and happiness. It is okay if not every day is a good day. Be kind to yourself on your worst days. These are the days when you need the most love and encouragement.

I always tell myself how proud I am of my Mom for all that she does. My Dad fought Alzheimer’s for five years. I can remember, in the hospital, he was watching my daughter dance. He looked at her then to each of us and said, “This is love!” That moment was all about love. Acceptance is not about giving up but instead enjoying and embracing the days you do have. In acceptance, we find that we learn to accept and love ourselves all over again.

Acceptance is an Active Practice

We all reach this stage at a different time. Accepting your chronic illness means that you are acknowledging the fact that your illness exists. It is accepting the fact that your life is different, but you are still alive. So, choose to live the best life that you can. You can accept your chronic illness but still, work on it. For example, my Mom takes physical therapy to become stronger. Acceptance is not about being passive.
An amazing way to help you learn to accept chronic pain and depression is to join support group or community. You will get the opportunity to connect with group members who share their experiences with chronic diseases.
George Orwell said, “Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” When my father first went on Hospice Care I didn’t want to believe it. When I accepted the situation I was able to appreciate each moment I had with my Dad even more. Little things like giving him a hug or seeing him smile brought me the greatest joy. Each time I sit and talk with my Mom, a feeling of happiness washes over me. Acceptance has taught me how to more deeply feel gratitude, joy, and happiness. Be kind to yourself, empower yourself, and feel the awe-inspiring freedom of acceptance. We are all beautiful, special individuals who deserve the power of acceptance.
For the past five years, I have been taking care of my parents who both have a neurological disorder. The strength, perseverance, and hope my parents possess inspire me to be a better person each day. It brings me great joy to listen, encourage, and help others. I feel that this is my life’s purpose. In my free time, I create upcycled art pieces, hike, and dabble in photography.