Just Keep Swimming

 The most recent “storm” of life has seemingly subsided just a bit, at least for now.  At one point early on in the drama of the past three weeks, however, I actually chuckled to myself while sitting with my poor mother in the ER right after her devastating fall.  I chuckled because I once again started thinking to myself about Dory in the wonderful animated movie “Finding Nemo” and her hilarious “just keep swimming” scene.  I love this movie, and I have identified so many times with Dory’s motto.  Just thinking about it has often brought a little sunshine to some pretty gloomy situations, and this was a very gloomy situation indeed.

There was nothing funny at all about my mother’s plight that night, as she learned that one of her worst fears had finally come true with the news that she had fractured her pelvis in three places.  I don’t think she really realized how long it would take her to recover from this either, and even now, we still don’t really have clue.  I probably had a better idea than she had at the time, though, and I knew it was going to be very, very hard on her.  She was living almost independently a few hours earlier, and now she would not even be able to stand up on her own for weeks, or possibly months.

I wanted to just break down in tears as I thought about it all, both from feeling so sorry for her and feeling frustrated by her at the same time.  She could have avoided the fall by just using her walker, but she chose to not do that.  I had done my part to consistently remind my 92 year-old mother to use her walker, but my comments were always met with her fiercely independent attitude that she didn’t really need it and that we were all just trying to “make an old woman out of her.”  Was she paddling down the river of “Denial?”  Absolutely.  Was there anything I could do to change it?  Nope.  Now, the damage was done, and it was time for her to deal with her new reality.

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…” played on in my head.

It has always been very hard for me to deal with family members and their serious health issues, and I can honestly describe it as a feeling of terror on many occasions, even though the terror was usually raging on the inside, not outside for others to see.  Between my children, my husband, my mother, my father, my sister and my brother, who died back in 2007 after many years of complex health issues, I have lost count of how many times I’ve sat in the ER and the hospital with them as they were suffering.  I felt so very helpless, and even guilty at times because I have enjoyed good health all of my life and still do.  My loved ones have battled many things, and you can see how many instances are even plural, having occurred more than once in the same or different relatives.  Their ailments have included cancer, diabetes, amputations, heart failure, heart-bypasses, severe alcohol withdrawal syndromes and subsequent rehabs, bi-polar disorder, severe depression, emergency life-threatening surgeries, attempted suicides, broken bones and chronic asthma attacks.  I don’t mean to take away from their issues at all because they have all truly suffered in tremendous ways, and I think that list pretty much speaks to that as well.  I just confess that this is something that has never been easy for me to deal with.  At all.

(BTW – If you are not already aware, severe alcohol withdrawal syndrome can actually kill a person.  My relative came very close to dying – two different times.  Please never attempt to withdraw from alcohol addiction on your own or let a loved one give it a try.  Get medical help!)

Many of their issues also hit me at times in my own life when my stress level was already elevated.  One particularly devastating health situation with a family member happened a week prior to 9/11/01, and I remember thinking that I just might not survive it all at the time.  At one point, I felt like I was going to have a heart attack from all the stress, and I finally hit “rock bottom” with my fears. Thankfully, that was when things began to turn around for me personally, as I finally began to release my fears and worries to God in earnest with the continued help of some wonderful Christian friends whose own life examples showed me that it was possible to do that in reality, not to just talk about doing it.  They didn’t give up on me, and I will always be grateful for their help.

Since that time, I have been learning to trust God more and more to bring me to a place of peace where it does not literally terrorize me to deal with situations like this anymore.  It has not always been easy either.  But with his help, I can “keep calm and carry on” most of the time, which is what my family members need from me as they are suffering and which is what I need to stay sane.  And through it all, I’ve discovered that I can actually be a competent advocate for them in these situations when they cannot advocate for themselves.  Perhaps that has also come with experience through the years, but if my fears were not kept in check, I could not advocate for their care like I can now.  And these days, patients need all the advocates they can get, too.  That is a discussion for another time, but one I am yet again very aware of with my mother’s recent hospital and skilled nursing stay.

Below are some verses that help get me through tough situations when my old fears want to overtake me once again.  They are so precious to me because each one has a special meaning for me now, especially Psalm 34:4 because I truly lived that one in a memorable way after 9/11.

You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.”
– Lamentations 3:57

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
– 1 Peter 5:7

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
– Hebrews 11:1

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
– Isaiah 41:10

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
– Psalms 56:3

I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
– Psalms 34:4

How I treasure each and every one of these words during the hard times, especially when dealing with family members and their issues.  But oddly enough, I often think about Dory at these times, too.  It may seem a bit odd how Dory’s little song reminds me of God’s promises at times like this, but for me, her simple little motto seems to just sum up, in a cute and funny way, everything that God has taught me about dealing with my fears.  I am never, ever alone, and he is able to take away my fears and anxieties to let me “just keep swimming” and properly care for myself and those I love when we all need it the most.

For me, this is quite possibly the greatest love story of my life.

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…”

 I wish you a very Happy Valentine’s Day!  Thank you for allowing me to share a piece of my heart with you today.

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