This sucks! We’ve been sheltering-in-place for 2 weeks and there’s at least another month to go. Adding to the COVID drama is the fact that I’m at a high risk for getting an infection because of heart disease. Sandra and the girls have imposed an extra level of stay at home orders on me. Being fenced in is driving me crazy, literally.
CNN, MSNBC, and social media are making the noise deafening. But I can’t stop paying attention. With all of that going on, I still have heart failure. I’m still on the transplant list, just with an added twist. If I get called soon, I’ll be in surgery and recovery with no family physically by my side. My mind swirls and the anxiety demons dance.
But, I’ll be okay. Fate prepared me for this moment. I’ve managed the physical and mental health challenges of heart failure by following doctors’ orders and trusting in faith, hope, and love. The physical part is easy. Getting through the mental stuff is another thing. That’s not so easy.
Uncertainty is scary. Nearly a decade later, I still get nervous if I feel something in my chest area that doesn’t seem right. The spiritual journey I’ve been writing about has been helpful. It has taught me how to mentally and emotionally deal with the unknown. God, Jesus Christ, St. Paul the Apostle, and the Buddha have all inspired me to put things into perspective.
If the uncertainty of COVID-19 is causing you to be anxious, nervous, or out of sorts, now is a good time to go on your own exploration to learn how you can better mentally manage the current crisis and deal with future events that are out of your control. There are all kinds of ways to do this. For people who are religious, delving deeper into your faith will help. If religion isn’t your thing, meditation or mindfulness works wonders.
It really doesn’t matter how you go about it. They’re are all based on some form of the same principles of faith, hope, and love. My journey has a definitive Catholic/Christian bent. I’m a big reader, so I studied further into the traditions I had known since I was a kid. For almost a decade, the power of these ideas has given me a more profound view of life.
I’ve written many posts about faith and hope. They’re the foundation for what St. Paul the Apostle called the greatest of the three: Love. To understand how love impacted my journey, I turned to the definition of love described in the book, The Four Loves, published by Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis in 1960.
The author describes Affection as the first of four loves. It’s the kind of love among parents and their children, siblings, and other blood relatives. It’s one of the strongest bonds we have as humans. Lewis writes that affection is the “less discriminating of loves.” In other words, the bond is so strong that it overshadows nearly any fault or deficiency of a loved one.
The instant a parent sees a newborn son or daughter is nothing less than magical. There is no better feeling of safety and comfort for a child than nuzzling up to mom. I’ve said that my spiritual journey started on the heels of my 2010 health crisis. In reality, it started much earlier. My spiritual education most likely began the moment I looked into my mom’s – my first love – eyes for the first time.
Research shows that there is a direct relationship between the love/affection of a mother and/or father and happiness. As such, suffering and pain caused by a conflict with or loss of a parent are disproportionately intense. On September 6, 1995, I experienced for the first time the devastation of loss related to affection. That’s the day that my father passed away. Eight years later, on December 5, 2003, my mom followed him to the grave. The emotional wreckage of her passing was even more extreme.
Mom was a woman of unwavering faith. Praying to God was her answer to suffering. “Con el favor de Dios“ (God willing) and “Si Dios quiere” (If that’s how God wants it) were her go-to solutions for just about anything. She believed that nothing, good or bad, happened by chance. God was always in control. “just pray, mijo,” she urged whenever doubt and uncertainty took control of my thoughts.
She was warm, loving, and encouraging. She taught me and my siblings, by way of example, about compassion and caring for the welfare of others. She taught us to recite the Lord’s prayer before bedtime and say “thank you God” before and after a meal. Church on Sunday wasn’t mandatory, but going to mass during holidays on the Catholic calendar was a must. Looking back on my journey, I think mom was more spiritual than religious.
Her death was a great opportunity for me to start exploring the faith that helped her get through times of suffering. But, I passed on the chance. Right after her funeral, I immersed myself in work. On top of my day job, I participated in a company-sponsored executive leadership training program. I was literally working round the clock.
About a year later, my emotional health came crashing down. My doctor ultimately diagnosed me with anxiety disorder triggered by my mom’s passing. Another chance to explore spirituality came and went. I fully committed to understanding the condition. I was dedicated to the medication regimen and monthly therapy sessions.
I learned about mindfulness and the chemistry of anxiety. Within 6 months, I had everything under control, or so I thought. That seemed to do the trick, so I continued on with my futile quest to control destiny only by working hard. In 2010, fate again stepped in. Rebounding from such a horrific health experience led to a roller coaster of emotions.
With mom gone, Sandra filled the empty space in my life where faith was waiting to be discovered. She has the same unquestioning belief in God as my mom. Instead of, “just pray, mijo,” the new mantra was, “just pray, babe.” I wanted to believe that was the answer but still thought that fate was in my own hands. I wasn’t so sure that mom and Sandra were right about God being in control of everything
I had questions. Throughout history, millions of people have died fighting in the name of God. They go into battle blindly following orders from religious leaders. Not only that, we all know regular churchgoers who judge and preach to those who don’t do the same. These things didn’t sit well with me. I wasn’t able to separate God from organized religion.
I would ask religious friends how the church helped them. They answered with a canned response like, “Jesus died for my sins.” I didn’t know what that meant and no one was able to explain it to me. My critical mind would rhetorically and sarcastically wonder “Why would I give my worries to someone who died almost 2,000 years ago because some guy at the pulpit told me to?”
My understanding of the unknown and mystical has grown exponentially in the past 10 years. Mom’s love for me provided the fundamentals to understanding God. I just wanted to learn more, know more. Unfortunately, it took death knocking on my front door to inspire me to dig deeper. That when I embarked on an intellectual and spiritual journey supported by God’s grace.
Believing that some things happen “just because” has carried me through the torturous uncertainty of heart failure. However, COVID-19 laid on top of heart failure is really trying my patience. But, my spiritual journey that started in my mom’s arms calms me and keeps me focused on what happens in the here and now.
I know that everything will work out, as my first love would say, “con el favor de Dios.”