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Fears - Control What You Can; Let Go of the Rest

I have a family trip planned. All the family is going. It involves airplane flights with several changes. It involves coordinating the schedules of seven different people.

I am writing this the morning after my dreams were filled with nightmares: the fear of missing my flights, and one of the flights being rescheduled which ruined our trip.

My dream involved me not being able to get away from the office at the last minute; or some other personal issue that prevented me from getting to the airport on time. Try as I may, it seems like I was stuck in tar and the harder I tried to get free, the more tangled I got. As it got closer and closer to the departure time, the more I felt trapped, unable to untangle myself. I wondered what would happen if I missed the trip altogether and my family went on it by themselves. I woke up in a sweat. So I wrote this article.

From an objective standpoint, I know that whether I get to the flight on time is really up to me. I am several weeks out from the trip. I can adjust my schedule so I can be there on time.

On the other hand, if the flights get changed or delayed there is nothing I can do about that now. No amount of worry is going to “fix” whether the airlines have some change over which I have no control.

It really boils down to what can I fix and should plan for; and what can I not fix or plan for? For the former (me being on time) I can plan; for the latter (the airline changing its schedules), my worrying does not fix anything.

Objectively, it seems pretty simple; in practice, when it is you, it is not so simple.

The last couple of weeks have been emotionally draining, while in the end, they ended up being uplifting. A couple of families came to see us. In one case, the children and the parents were both in the room. Dad has dementia, and he knows it. He fears not being able to care for his family, of losing his memory, of becoming something that he has never been, and his loss of dignity and his pride. The family is heartbroken for dad. They are heartbroken for mom as she journeys with Dad. They fear for her safety, both physically and financially.

In another case with another family, Dad has gone through a series of health issues. Not only does he have some dementia, he has lost his eyesight and has lost a lot of functioning of his extremities. He is no longer able to bathe, feed, or dress himself. But he still knows the family. He knows that things are not good. He is angry; he is depressed; and he is terribly frustrated at his plight. His family is heartbroken at the plight that they find their father. He has always been a good, strong man. A good father; a good husband. But now the end of life is being so difficult for him. At times the entire room was sobbing in the heartbreak that they expressed to me.

With both families we visited. We broke down what kind of things we could control. We addressed those issues: financial fears; caregiver issues; short term plans for healthcare; long term plans for healthcare; and creating tools for the caregivers.

We also talked about those things we cannot control. In both cases Dad is on a journey. We need to accept that he is on this journey. We need to fix the things that we can fix, and stop worrying about the things that we cannot fix. We need to be with Dad and appreciate our opportunity to be with him on this journey.

In the end, the families were very relieved that they had a plan; and the fear was replaced by peace of mind.

Frankly, we could write books about fear and how to address it. But I know that when people come into my office fear is very real; it is tangible; whether they can control it or not, it is controlling them.

With the two families that I met with, I think part of the key to getting rid of the fear that they had, was accepting that each had a loved one on a journey with a difficult end; that they should be ready for that; and to not fear what they could not control.

Unfortunately, we can let fear paralyze all aspects of our lives. Sometimes it is difficult to step back and figure out what we can fix and what we cannot fix. Fear can throw a dark cloak over all aspects of your life.

On a lighter note, I will be at the Hays airport two hours prior to my trip departure, even if the airport is not yet open.

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