Living With A Chronic Illness: Creating a Legacy

Stan Goldberg, PhD

Someone living with a chronic illness often can’t think past today’s pain or discomfort. If they can, their focus may be on wondering when the momentary relief will end or how soon the pain will return.

Chronic Illness and Identity

A chronic illness is a part of who you are, lasting a long time or forever. Even if it isn’t acute, the effects on a normal life can be devastating, leading to suicide or withdrawal from the world, as it possibly was for Robin Williams, leaving friends and family powerless to help.

It’s difficult to think about anything positive when your body is consumed by pain, your mind focused on it, or the losses sustained are overwhelming. Suggestions from well-meaning family and friends involving prayer, meditation, or distraction are viewed as dubious. So here’s something different. Create a legacy.

How Legacy Affects Chronic Pain

Focusing on the present for those living with chronic and acute illnesses, often prevents them from contributing and psychologically preparing for what they may face in the future.

Few understand they are in a unique position of creating a legacy that will comfort them as their illness progresses and can provide wisdom to those who follow.

I was in the initial stages of prostate cancer when I started volunteering as a bedside hospice volunteer. Exhaustion and other side-effects of the treatment hadn’t started during the first six months, allowing me to function as a “normal” person. The wisdom I gained from my patients about coping, what is important in life, and preparing for my future are lessons I couldn’t have learned anywhere else.

Leaving a Legacy

What my patients gave me–their legacy–has sustained me for many years and hopefully will continue through my counseling and writing.

Legacy is not something confined to words, pictures, or memories. It can provide guideposts for living, long after the teacher is no longer present.

The take-away? When something of importance is lost—such as one’s health—hoping you’ll accept the loss may not be the most fruitful approach. Try replacing it with something positive rather than lamenting the loss. Create a legacy.

Preventing Senior Moments, by Stan Goldberg

Offers practical and achievable prevention strategies for senior moments.


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