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Rule #1 Confront Your Fears - Rules for Embracing Life in the 21st Century -

Rule #1 Confront Your Fears

(Clinton KY) It is interesting that Ivan said not "conquer your fears" but "confront your fears". He recognized that not all fears can be conquered. There are fears that can be recognized but there isn't much we can do about them. Confronting fears means not letting the dust bunny under the bed grow teeth, red eyes and growl us out of a sound sleep.

Fear is a natural part of living. It helps keep us safe. American fears 2023 lists the top ten fears of Americans:

  1. Loved ones dying
  2. Loved ones becoming seriously ill
  3. Personally becoming seriously ill
  4. Not having enough money for retirement
  5. Mass shootings/gun violence
  6. Losing physical mobility
  7. Corrupt government officials
  8. Chronic diseases
  9. High medical bills
  10. US getting involved in another war

The top two fears are of loved ones becoming seriously ill and dying. Sixty eight percent of over two thousand adults surveyed reported being "very afraid" of the death of a loved one.

It is interesting that one's own death doesn't make the top ten. Death is inevitable. As my sainted mama used to say "you ain't getting' out of this world alive". As a devout Roman Catholic, she didn't fear death viewing it as a natural transition. Facing the death of a loved one far outweighs facing our own mortality. The study says that fear of death is highest among the young. "...young people may act invincible, but those under 30 are more frightened of their mortality than those in the oldest age groups."

I thought I dealt with fearing the death and serious illness of my husband. More than once over the last ten years of his life, he was airlifted from our local hospital to Vanderbilt Medical Center to treat his heart failure. More than once the question of "Should I call in the family?" came up. In those critical times, I thought (in my hubris) that I could deal with the statistically inevitable fact that, barring accident or unforeseen circumstances, I would outlive him.

I recognize now my way of confronting fears was to fight for his life like a mama tiger. He was all in. We turned our considerable joint research skills to his health. We became Team Keep Ivan Alive. When Ivan was 67, his cardiologist predicted that getting him to 70 would be a miracle. We made it to a few months short of his 77th birthday. It was a miracle of hard work, a positive outlook and prayer. Lots of prayer!

Following a strict regimen, his diet no longer included the fried foods and Dr. Pepper he loved. He whittled his weight down to 175 from a high of 250 pounds. He once called the hospital dietician from his hospital bed to compliment her on the food (I know - I can see your eyes rolling back). He invited her to come and instruct him on proper nutrition. He listened and followed her advice. The salt shaker disappeared from our table. Fruit that he once viewed as a table decoration became a staple every day.

Getting meds into him at the right times and in the right amounts was so complicated it became an Excel worksheet task. Multiple docs prescribed multiple prescriptions. At least twice adverse reactions put him in the hospital. We kept a notebook of his medicine by date and time of day to be checked off as he took them. A separate page was devoted to daily recording weight, urine output (water retention is an early warning sign), blood pressure, oxygen. We used a device (not too successfully) to track if his heart was beating erratically.

The notebook went with us to every doctor's appointment and hospital admission. We realized that we needed to take charge of keeping his treatment providers informed. His primary doc often complimented me saying I was Ivan's private med/surg nurse. While Team Ivan was the center of our universe, it was a day in the life for those who saw hundreds of other patients.

A Note Here: With only a very few exceptions, Ivan had outstanding medical care. His caregivers came to respect him for his intellect and curiosity. Some to know him on a personal level. That the business they are in is totally screwed up is an article for another time. They did the best they could do for a patient who not many years before wouldn't have lived a year after that first congestive heart failure diagnosis.

Confronting his illness meant changing my routine. As he got sicker, I asked for and received permission to keep my cell phone turned on while in court. I took our car everywhere. I stopped walking for exercise. Gardening became exercise that he could watch and cheer on. I stopped walking the block to my office after he had a heart failure incident that left me running home in high heels. There he was sitting on the porch struggling to breathe through lungs filled with fluid. Our Clinton chief of police hearing the address on the scanner was already there speaking quietly waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

Ivan's fears were so much more global than mine. He worried about the Farm Bill. He worried about international affairs. He worried about the widening political divide. He often reminisced on the times he was able to talk with those who disagreed with him. He spoke fondly of those he worked with who held different views of the role of government. He no longer felt that back and forth policy discussions were even possible in the current climate. And it made him sad.

He confronted his fears by learning all he could. Multiple newspapers, local, state, national (he was one of two Wall Street Journal subscribers in town) magazines on policy, current events, tech came to our house. (I still haven't opened the weighty Foreign Affairs magazine that came in the other day). He read them and marked them up and dog eared pages and wrote in his spiral notebooks about them.
He talked with anyone who stopped to visit as he sat on our front porch as weather permitted.

He did all he could within the confines of our far western Kentucky geographical isolation and his health restrictions. One of the last events he attended was a visit to a Democratic political event in Carlisle County to meet Governor Beshear. He took along a position paper he had written to give to the Governor. Beshear won. Ivan never heard if he helped. But he was content that he did something.

Ivan often quoted President Franklin D. Roosevelt's encouragement to the American people beaten down by loss of homes, jobs, farms, security. "Assuming the Presidency at the depth of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt helped the American people regain faith in themselves. He brought hope as he promised prompt, vigorous action, and asserted in his Inaugural Address, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/franklin-d-roosevelt/

Fears #1 and #2 have now come true for me. Confronting my fears is helping me get ready for next rules for embracing life in the 21st century.

Addendum: We found Ivan's Rules for Embracing Life in the 21st Century while going through the many pieces of paper he left behind. I was his editor, correcting his grammar, his creatively spelled words and his bureaucratic run on sentences. He didn't share these twelve rules with me so I am not sure when he wrote them or even what prompted him to write them. The rules have made me stop and think. They have pushed me to write again and to share thoughts on each rule and what I think it meant to him. And what it means to me.

The Rules were read at his Celebration of Life on April 6th. Since then, I've been sending copies anyone who requests them.

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