We deal with illness and death every day through our contact with the world— through radio, TV and online news sources, but most of these tragedies are abstract and feel distant. They don’t directly affect our families and our world. When these events start to happen to people we know or to our own family members, sickness and death weigh on our minds and hearts in a much bigger way.
You’ve heard it said before: in our teens and twenties we feel invincible, like illness and death can’t touch us. In our thirties, we feel a little more vulnerable, especially if we are parents to small children who depend on us for their well-being. In our forties and fifties we are a lot more likely to know people our age who meet with misfortune. And so it goes, on into our 60s, 70s, and 80s and beyond, when it may become the case that almost everyone we know in our age range is ill or dying—even ourselves.
Everyone experiences feeling “old” at a different age. Some people start feeling old in their 30s; others don’t feel old until sometime in their 50s or 60s. When the people around us start developing diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other serious, life-threatening health conditions, we may start feeling “old”. It is natural to feel stressed and down about seeing ourselves and our loved ones age and become infirm.
There are a couple of ways to deal with that stress. Often illness and death are taboo topics that we feel can’t be discussed, even with friends or members of our family. However, it is really important to be able to share your feelings and worries with someone else rather than keeping them all inside. Sharing reduces stress and gives other people an opportunity to support you and share how they have coped with similar situations.
If you have a friend or family member who is seriously or terminally ill, reach out and see what you can do to help. A lot of stress and depression is caused by feeling powerless. Certainly, we feel very powerless when it comes to serious illnesses and death. Giving support to your friend or his or her family takes the focus off yourself and helps you feel useful and a little less powerless.
Realizing the fragility of all life can also spur us to renew our relationships with a real appreciation of the fleeting gifts of health and life. We can cherish those we love and choose to express that love directly rather than holding back out of feeling embarrassed about seeming “mushy” or too sentimental. Finally, dealing with illness and death around us can inspire us to take even better care of our own health and to take the risk of making our lives richer and more fulfilling because the only time we know for sure that we have is now.