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July 30, 2014 at 8:00 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

This Patient's Story Reminded Me Just How Precious Life Is

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

I hadn't seen her in 10 months since the death of her husband. I asked her how she was and she smiled, letting me know she was grieving. What else should I have expected? I thanked her for her honesty. They were married for 62 years. Six months into their marriage, he shipped out to the other side of the world to fight for our country. We contrasted those times:  a letter was the only form of communication and it took weeks and may have included black military sensor markings removing parts of the narrative - a far cry from Skype and cell phones. She went further, lamenting the way things have changed in regards to attitudes in general. 

In my patient's time, if something was broke, all efforts went toward fixing it rather than tossing it in the trash.This was true not only for possessions but also relationships. She expressed the need for the people of today to appreciate what they have. After all, it could be gone at any moment. She told me about several "little things" that her husband had done which she only now appreciates, fending for herself.

Indeed, I see people every week that are experiencing loss.

They may be healthy one day and in the hospital the next, hooked up to a cardiac monitor with numerous new medications - a far cry from the rationalized smoking habit and poor dietary choices over the years. They may notice a lump that leads to surgery and chemotherapy - a loss of the energy that was never appreciated or the hair that crowned the head. That typical daily commute could turn into a tragedy, life interrupted. In a matter of seconds, minimal, meaningless concerns such as what to put on the table for dinner or the daily tasks of work could turn into a fight to maintain life.

Life is a fragile balance.

A life without serious strife should be seen as a blessing.  And, yet, we seem to fill our plates with stress and overwhelmedness no matter how stable our health and relationships may be. If you examine your life and, after digging through the layers of superficial stress, you are blessed, consider heeding my patient's advice. Appreciate and try the following:

  1. Tell your mate exactly what they mean to you and why you appreciate them.
  2. Think about at least one "little thing" that someone does for you and thank them for it.
  3. Look in the mirror and appreciate an attribute about yourself.  Be thankful for it.
  4. Remove the distractions from your comings and goings through the day.  Be thankful for your safety.  Remember this every time you hear a siren and consider praying for those for whom the siren tolls.
  5. Say goodbye to loved ones without the expectation that you will see them again.

In regards to the challenges and losses that do occur in life, take heart. Trials shape us and build our character, making us stronger. They lead us to fight a fight, surmounting a summit, gathering the support of loved ones for encouragement. 

For those who have come through serious trials, appreciation for the moment and the simple gifts comes easy. For those who have not, it requires a conscious effort. For both, however, this is attainable and makes for a richer, more fulfilled life.

I walked out of the visit with my patient, having refilled her single prescription and thanking her for her important reminder.

Live, and live well

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