Rheumatoid Arthritis & Life: Learning to Accept Change and Let Go of the Past

Cathy Health Guide
  • Life is full of change.  Change is scary.  Change is hard.  It often feels easier to stay where we are in life than accept the change that is occurring.  However, life always has other plans for us and throws us situations that create change whether we want it or not.  The problem is often not in the change, but in "letting go" of what was and embracing what is now.


    In April, life brought a huge change to my life.  My dad passed away.  This has left a huge empty hole in my spirit.  Although I can only think of beautiful memories when I think of my dad, his death feels wrong.  It feels as if one of the most beautiful gifts ever given to me has been taken away and life will never seem quite as good.   I don't want this change.  I want to hold onto my dad and put things back to the way they were before. 

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    As I have reflected on the end of my dad's life, I have realized that many of the feelings I am experiencing are very similar to the feelings I have experienced off and on the last seven and a half years of living with rheumatoid arthritis.  It has felt wrong.  It has felt like the beautiful gifts life has given me were being taken away.  It has felt wrong.


    Although the death of a loved one and living with rheumatoid arthritis are quite different, I want to share some similarities I have been experiencing.


    Scared:  When I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I was scared beyond belief.  How would I cope?  What would become of me?  As my dad entered hospice care, the same feelings of fear attacked my body.  How would I cope without him?  What would become of me without one of my main supporters in life? 


    Denial:  With both rheumatoid arthritis and with the passing of my dad, I have often felt denial.  In fact, I have often thought, "If I don't mention it to anyone, it doesn't have to be real." 


    Anger:  Why is this happening to me?  Why do I have to experience such pain?  With rheumatoid arthritis I felt like I had been eating a good diet (I now realize how wrong I was), I worked out frequently and I kept my life fairly stress free.    This was wrong to be happening to me.   With my dad's death it has been the same.  Why is this happening to me?  Why is this happening to him?  Why did he have to experience pain?  Why did this have to happen to someone with such a gentle heart?


    Depression:  Rheumatoid arthritis and the loss of my dad have been life changing.  Both have brought on extreme fatigue, tons of tears, and just an overall feeling of sadness that doesn't want to go away. 


    Elimination:  Chronic pain and a death of someone close to you both require a lot from you physically and mentally.  In both cases, I have found that I need to eliminate things in my life that are cluttering my brain such as unnecessary emails, errands that aren't totally necessary, and even limiting time with friends.


    Calm:   Finally the calm came with both.  I finally came to the point that I felt I could let things go and let life be as it needs to be.  This doesn't mean an end to happiness.  With rheumatoid arthritis, I can still enjoy life to its fullest.  I may need to adjust how I live out my daily life, but life is still beautiful and has much to offer us.  With my dad gone, I have memory after memory that will stay with me each day as a guide to being the best person I can be.  With both situations, I am fortunate to have family to lean on for support as needed. 


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    I would like to say that the calm of accepting and letting go of both rheumatoid arthritis and the death of my dad has been easy.  It hasn't.  All the stages I have mentioned above are stages that are repeated often.  Some mornings I wake up and I feel fear as deep down as possible.  Some days, it takes every ounce of energy to explain my rheumatoid arthritis to others just as sharing the death of my dad seems too difficult to share some days.  Other days, I feel like I can take a deep breath and accept where life has brought me and smile knowing all is the way life intended. 


    When we are diagnosed with a chronic disease, a part of us does die.  That part of us that dies does need to be mourned.   I have discovered through both my rheumatoid arthritis experiences and the death of my dad is that letting go of what was is a slow process.  It shouldn't be rushed.  We don't have to accept what is happening immediately.  We need to be gentle with ourselves.  We need to allow ourselves time to reflect on where we are in life right now and that should not be rushed.  We need time to mourn for what was before we can embrace what is now.


    When I talked to my dad on the phone (we live 700 miles apart), he would always ask about my rheumatoid arthritis.  I could always feel the pain he felt in his heart that this was happening to me.  He would say, "It just isn't right that it is happening to you at such a young age."  He was right.  It isn't right.  It also isn't' right that cancer took him away from us at such a young age.   But, life seems to be in charge and whether we want to accept the changes or not, we do always have the option of making the best of our situations by slowly letting go of what was and accepting what is now.  



Published On: May 31, 2011