“When Chronic Illness Comes Your Way,” Liahona, Jan. 2023.
Before she passed away from a debilitating disease, my mother often smiled and said, “None of us are getting out of here alive, so we might as well make the most of what we have.”
That was on her good days. And in her life, she had many good days.
But she also had days that weren’t so buoyant. On those days she’d say, “Take what comes your way and see if you can still do some good in the world.”
Globally, people are living much longer than in the past.1 But although we’re living longer, we’re also more likely to develop a chronic disease: diabetes, Parkinson’s, cancer, depression, Alzheimer’s, and the list goes on. So, when chronic illness comes your way, how should you respond?
“Face the music, even when you can’t call the tune,” says a brother forced to take disability leave as his wife returns to the workforce to support their family. He believes that too often we put on a happy face that prevents us from processing our feelings or improving our outlook. “Instead of moving forward with faith, we stagnate as we wait for a miracle or murmur when one doesn’t come,” he says. He copes by listening to scriptures and general conference talks and by visiting with friends and family on the phone.
“It’s the ordinariness of each day that can get me down,” says a sister whose husband is chronically ill. “My husband’s health will never get better. I accept that. But the drudgery of all the routine, menial tasks is mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausting.” She appreciates visits from ministering sisters. “When they come by it truly brightens my day.”
“Sometimes, my wife and I forget things and get irritable with each other,” says another aging brother. “We feel frustrated being so forgetful, and especially regret afterward angry words we say to each other.” They’ve learned to make notes to help them remember. They allow each other to take time to calm down before speaking. “And,” he says, “we’ve learned even more the importance of saying, ‘Thank you,’ and ‘I love you.’”
Another older couple got by on a fixed income until the price of their medication doubled. Thanks to family members and their ward, their needs were addressed. “At first we were embarrassed to ask for help, especially from our children,” the brother said. “But everyone was eager to assist.”
Here are some suggestions and observations from those who deal with chronic illness:
Those who turn to the Savior will find hope. “I thought no one could understand what I was going through,” says a brother with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). “Then one Sunday while taking the sacrament, I realized the Savior understood my suffering. I knew I could endure by drawing close to Him.” (See Alma 7:11–12; Doctrine and Covenants 121:8; 122:8.)
Compassion increases in those who “endure it well” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:8). “To whom do we look, in days of grief and disaster, for help and consolation? … They are men and women who have suffered, and out of their experience in suffering they bring forth the riches of their sympathy and condolences as a blessing to those now in need. Could they do this had they not suffered themselves?”2
Take one day at a time. “Some years ago, the pain was so severe I didn’t see how I could take it any longer. I began feeling suicidal,” says a sister suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS). She checked herself into the mental health unit at a hospital. During counseling, her motto became not just “endure to the end” (1 Nephi 22:31) but rather “endure to the end of the day.”
Develop new interests and find new ways to serve. Rather than grieving over what you can no longer do, discover new passions. A sister with MS found she couldn’t do things she’d loved before, like horseback riding or softball. Instead, she learned calligraphy. Now she uses her newly developed talent to create illuminated manuscripts of the Book of Mormon for her family.
When chronic disease becomes a fact of life, it is indeed a challenge. But with faith, hope in Christ, and a desire to continue to serve, dealing with day-to-day adversity can help us to grow in compassion, empathy, and resilience.
The author lives in Utah, USA.