Living is a journey on a series of stepping stones across the stream of life with the first step being birth and the last step being death. Each step causes feelings of denial: this can't be happening to me; but, yes it is and I'm angry about it. Get over it; I can't, it's depressing. Get over it; yes, get over it and move forward as life goes on with or without your acceptance.
Some stepping stones are just below the surface; they're hard to see, slippery, and cause us to fall into the stream. At the age of five, we fall off our first bicycle. At sixteen, we smash up dad's new car. At twenty, we're fired from our job. Step by step, as we cross the stream of life, we recycle denial, anger, and depression, but hopefully arrive at acceptance. Life carries on to the next stepping stone, and to the next crisis.
It's not uncommon to feel that we've prematurely arrived at the last stone and that the end of life is imminent. Kidney failure and dialysis are seemingly the last stepping stones, but life is not over, not yet. I talk with others about the precious gift of life given to kidney patients through dialysis. It's also important to understand present feelings. Denial is often fairly easy to conquer. Anger can almost be fun to discuss and share. Depression is more difficult. We can no longer physically do the things we did in the past or hoped to do in the future. However, an exchange of ideas helps us find new ways to live life and be productive. Depression can be a bottleneck that chokes off living joyfully. Talking through our anger and disappointments, as well as analyzing our old hopes and dreams is a healthy way move on, and to accept a new status in life. We can then proceed to the next stepping stone by creating new hopes, intentions, and challenges. We can change the image of being a burden, and become a treasured helping hand in times of need. We can discover a new us that has been hiding under the surface.
By listening carefully, really paying attention to the details of what a dialysis patient says, I discover what stage - denial, anger, or depression - they are struggling with. They have my shoulder, my heart, and sometimes a spoken word of encouragement. I try to provide an example of how to move forward, living cheerfully, even when the body is not fully cooperating. I also cry when I'm hurting. It's embarrassing, but it's the other side of the cheerful coin. The comfort others bring to me strengthens both our resolve to live on. We dialysis patients are still alive, and have meaningful roles and messages for our families, neighbors, friends, and even strangers we meet on the way.
Talking with dialysis patients is one way to help them pick up the pieces of a broken life and move on to continue being productive and happy. I don't know all the answers, but I know some because I've been on the same stepping stones they are walking on. Without dwelling on the, "Oh, poor me," syndrome, it's fun exploring the new things we can do with our lives!
Another major step toward a healthy attitude is determined cheerfulness as a person embarks on a lifetime of dialysis. The stream of life is full of troubles, including all the negative attributes you can assign to its depths. But the stream's water is also the foundation of life; its current carries the hope of the world, life itself. Hope is contagious. Smiles are contagious. Cheerfulness is contagious. Every dialysis patient has the opportunity to be an ambassador of cheerfulness and hope.
I'm almost eighty-two years old, and I just bought my first canoe. "Why?" you might ask. I have had fourteen heart bypasses plus four stints. No right arm rotator cup and neither kidney functions very well. I spend three days of each week devoted to dialysis. Why buy a canoe? It's simple: I'm not dead, and I want to go canoeing. Everyone, including dialysis patients, can live their life to the fullest. I advise everyone that until you reach the last stepping stone across the stream of life, step forward with gusto and joy. The dance is not over until we take the last step home. Turn the corner of your lips up: smile and the world will smile with you.