Oh, where to start?
I have Type 1 Diabetes. It is not the same thing as Type 2 diabetes. It is an autoimmune disease with no exact known cause and no cure. It is most definitely not caused by poor lifestyle choices and cannot be cured by lifestyle changes. It can be managed, and often managed very, very well, with lifelong multiple daily injections of a synthetic hormone naturally made in every else’s bodies called insulin. If you don’t get any insulin, however, you will just die a painful death.
Heart disease can be caused by Type 1 Diabetes. My father also had Type 1, and he died from an enlarged heart – caused by his diabetes – at the age of 37. That was almost exactly 31 years ago today. Halloween time – and my birthday (lucky me) – usually bring happy emotions of the present, but bad memories of the past.
Although my diabetes has never been as hard to manage as my father’s was, it still just “is what it is” and carries the risks that it does. It seems like I am more at risk for just about everything, simply because I have a very naughty pancreas.
The last few weeks I have been experiencing mild but worrisome heart attack symptoms. It took a little soccer pick-up game with a friend and her cute family to really make me worry, though. The past few weeks I have often been a little short of breath for no apparent reason. I have started to become very tired and even fallen asleep as early as 8:00 pm on more than one occasion. I had been walking with a neighbor twice a week, just 4 miles, but as fast as we could go without actually having to jog, and it was getting harder and harder, not easier. I have also been experiencing some weird chest pain. But it wasn’t really until during this little soccer game that I became really worried that I was following my father’s genetic pattern in developing an enlarged heart also.
I just couldn’t breathe. I could never, ever catch my breath. And it started to hurt. Now, I’m not going lie, I’m not the most in shape I’ve ever been in my life. But last month I was coaching my son’s 5th and 6th grade soccer team, and the parents and kids and I all played in a big pick-up game. I was a little out of breath then, too, but it was NOTHING like last Saturday, where my opponents were 4, 6, and 8 years old and I felt like I just couldn’t even go on. All Saturday long I felt like my lungs were still trying to catch up. My chest started hurting more, not terrible pain, but constant pain. Everything just felt wrong.
Anxiety kicked in and I just knew a heart attack was eminent. All the signs were there. I just knew I was going to die, just like my dad did, and leave my little family behind, just like he had all those years ago, making Halloween visits to the cemetery a time of reverence and reflection and prayer, instead of spooky and creepy and fun. A few days away from my birthday, I was also almost the same age as my father was when he had his heart attack.
I am not afraid to die. I have no fear of God – except the reverence kind – and I look forward to being welcomed into heaven by my Heavenly Father and my earthly father who left us so long ago. The act of dying isn’t my concern.
I just don’t want to die.
How could I leave my family? Who would take care of all my little children? Who would be there for them during all their major life obstacles? Who would help them navigate their teenage years? Their young adult years? Any of their years? Who would help them conquer their battles? Who would just hold their hands and take them hiking, or swimming, or to the park, or to the library? Who was going to make them practice piano, and study their Latin, and understand, and care, and just love them the way I did? I just couldn’t leave! I didn’t want to miss any of it. My two-year old? Would he even have any memories of who I was? When my father died, my little sister was about 8 months old. She has no memories of our dad, whatsoever. Was my little guy going to grow up, in effect, without ever knowing his mom? Never remembering all those little snuggles and hugs and kisses and tender moments, just him and me? This little boy – all these little children – for whom I have given up almost everything – what role would I play in their lives? Certainly not much of any.
I cried. A LOT!
And I prayed. A LOT!
And then I told my husband about it, and he worried. A LOT!
I felt prompted to write personal letters to all of my children so they would have some memory of how much their mother loved them. (Now, what would you write in your parting letter to your kids? It was a very difficult task, but I was afraid if I didn’t do it, there would just be too much left unsaid and then it would be too late.) I was extra patient. I gave extra long hugs. I was extra attentive. I felt like I had to savor every single minute that I had left, because the clock was ticking and the pain in my chest was a constant witness to the fact.
Now, if I was not a Type 1 Diabetic, and if I did not have the particular family history that I do, and I was still experiencing the same symptoms, obviously I would not have been so dramatic.
(Also, had not that one doctor at the time of my diagnosis 12 or so years ago told me, “It’s not if you have a heart attack, it’s when. And since heat attack symptoms in women are so vague and unusual, you probably won’t even know you are having a heart attack,” I probably wouldn’t have taken any of this very seriously.)
But as it is, everything added up the way it did.
And Monday morning, on my birthday, I woke up early, finished my parting letter to my husband, and woke him up so he could drive me to the Emergency Room. The pain was just getting worse and worse.
I never even got to say goodbye to my sleeping children. They would wake up, and I would be gone. It all just felt like the end.
But as we drove to the hospital in the dark, and as the nurses were hooking up all the little electrode stickers and IV catheters and whatever else was stuck to me, as my heart sobbed and my face showed it, I felt overwhelming gratitude that God had told me all those years ago to homeschool my children. I felt so fortunate, that even though my years with them would be so short, my time with them had been constant. My purpose with them had not been to get them the right clothes so they would fit in with their peers, or to help them navigate the social pecking order of child and media led socialization. My purpose with them had been to teach them and to train them and to help open their eyes and their minds to truth. I had been teaching them love and kindness and charity. I had been teaching them repentance and forgiveness and compassion. I had been teaching them perseverance, hard work, integrity, and honesty. I had been teaching them of Christ and the Plan of Salvation. I had been teaching them how to discern between right and wrong. I had been teaching them how to avoid and resolve conflict, and how to be good examples to everyone around them. (I’m not saying my kids are perfect at any of these things. In fact, one of my actual fears was, “Who in the world is going to be able to handle that 4 year old after I’m gone? That kid has some serious anger management and hypersensitivity issues!”)
And, of course, I’d been teaching them math and science and history and spelling and grammar and Latin and music and all that other stuff, too.
But the most important thing to me in that moment, was the time I had had with my kids and the opportunity I had taken to be the mom, instead of that lady at home who cooks and cleans. (And I’m not even very good at either of those, anyway, so those would have been very poor lasting impressions, indeed!) Even though I wasn’t perfect at using every moment to it’s maximum potential – and some moments were utilized definitely way less than to their potential, maybe more moments than I’d like to admit – homeschooling gave me so many opportunities to teach them truth and reach their hearts in their teachable moments, because I was physically there and knew them well enough to help them understand.
The blood work was sent off, the EKG was finishing up, the chest X-rays were with the radiologist, and I figured that even though I obviously wasn’t having a heart attack at that moment and hadn’t had one yet, my diagnosis would mean a very limited and shortened life. And not very far in the back of my mind, I was still waiting for my dad to come and pick me up.
But you know what? I didn’t die.
The ER doc came back and said everything looked absolutely perfect, there was no heart damage, no heart enlargement at all, but I should probably make an appointment with a pulmonologist pretty soon to figure out what was going on, seeing as it definitely wasn’t good. In any case, in his opinion, it wasn’t my heart giving me all the problems.
(And I thought I had cried a lot before the “diagnosis”!)
We came home. I hugged my children. (I was actually kind of in a daze and recovering from emotional exhaustion for quite a while.) My kids sang “Happy Birthday” and gave me all the letters and cards and stories they had written. They all hoped I would make myself a cake so they could eat some of it later. And the entire day my husband and I just breathed great huge sighs of relief. Seriously. I think the sighs were coming in regular 30 minute intervals.
This entire episode has made me reflect on many things, only a few of which I will mention here. One, my children need a refresher course in calling 911, just in case. Two, I need to keep all those hugs a little longer, and stay a little more attentive, and make sure they always, always know how much I love them. (I’m totally going to be that mom who embarrasses their teenagers ALL THE TIME in front of their friends!) And three, my time with them is precious, whether it is long or short, because as a mother I have a sacred responsibility to prepare them for life. Not just for getting good grades and making friends, or getting into college. It is way deeper than to which political party (if any) they should align themselves or what professions they should choose or spouse they should marry.
A mother’s job is more. And it takes a really long time. And it’s significance cannot be overestimated. (And the seriousness of the job can oftentimes seem extremely overwhelming – especially when you think your chance is almost over and you have to quickly do all those things you’ve left undone.)
But a very, very intelligent and spiritually wise man once explained that
“In my office is a beautiful painting of a wheat field. The painting is a vast collection of individual brushstrokes—none of which in isolation is very interesting or impressive. In fact, if you stand close to the canvas, all you can see is a mass of seemingly unrelated and unattractive streaks of yellow and gold and brown paint. However, as you gradually move away from the canvas, all of the individual brushstrokes combine together and produce a magnificent landscape of a wheat field. Many ordinary, individual brushstrokes work together to create a captivating and beautiful painting.
Each family prayer, each episode of family scripture study, and each family home evening is a brushstroke on the canvas of our souls. No one event may appear to be very impressive or memorable. But just as the yellow and gold and brown strokes of paint complement each other and produce an impressive masterpiece, so our consistency in doing seemingly small things can lead to significant spiritual results. “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33). Consistency is a key principle as we lay the foundation of a great work in our individual lives and as we become more diligent and concerned in our own homes.”
A homeschool mother is blessed with just so many more minutes in the day to paint, and then fix her mistakes, and then paint some more. I know homeschooling is not the right course for every mother and family, but I am so grateful it is the right course for me and mine.
So how do you homeschool with health problems? The diagnosed and the not yet diagnosed?
I guess you just do it with gratitude and love.
Maybe, in a way, it is a gift to be able to realize how precious life is, and how precious health is, and how precious family is. Maybe it is a way to remind us to kneel down and look up more often. Maybe it is a way to help us stay on track as mothers and as homeschooling mothers.
It certainly isn’t to make life easier or more comfortable. (Or more affordable! You would have a heart attack yourself if you saw how much a month’s supply of insulin costs!) But if we offer that sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then our lives will be more humble. Certainly, a humble life is a better life. The irony of life is that it is when we are penitent and humble, that we are given the ability to more powerfully and effectively do God’s work.
Families are God’s work.
Mothering is God’s work.
And because I was called to homeschool, I say yes, for me homeschooling is God’s work, too.
My chest still hurts. In fact, it even hurts a little more than yesterday and a little more than the day before that. But my heart is so full of peace, gratitude, and love for a Heavenly Father who loves me and knows me. I know that even if He declared it was my time to move on, everything would be ok.
God has a plan. I promise He does. He’s not up there wondering what to do next and trying to figure out how this is going to all work out. He knows the beginning and the end.
He is the beginning and the end.
So what are my “tips” and “advice” on homeschooling with health problems? Don’t try to do it alone. However you homeschool, do it with a humble heart, with faith in Christ’s Atonement, and a deep love and testimony of God’s plan. Christ is the Great Physician, the Great Healer, and the Great Teacher. You really cannot go wrong when you are following His ways.
(And also, perhaps, routine check ups with your other doctor, too. 😉 )