Column: A few reflections as a new year looms

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Roger VanHaren

As I reflect on a year when Marilyn and I have both faced some very serious health issues, it seems more important than ever to maintain an outlook of faith and hope. This season, beginning with Thanksgiving and continuing through Christmas, reminds us that our problems are not insurmountable, and we are not alone.

At this time of year, we often contemplate wishes and resolutions for the coming year. At my age, I’m not much for resolutions anymore, but I do have wishes for us and for my readers. My first wish is that those of you who suffer with disease and distress will have your health restored. I realize that for some of you, this is a realistic possibility, but for others it might be just a distant dream.

It’s not easy to travel a middle path between being proactive about our health (always trying to improve it) but at the same time accepting our situations as they are so that we can be positive and make the best of each new day.

Marilyn and I have amazing family and friends who support us when we are struggling, and the nice part about it is that they do not expect anything in return. They are honest, trustworthy and loyal, and accept us unconditionally. My wish is that all who suffer will have the same kind of support. May your friends and family realize how important it is for you to feel listened to and believed when you talk about your condition, the limitations and disappointments you sometimes feel. That can go a long way toward making you feel okay about the unexpected turns your lives have taken.

No matter how hard a day is for you, I hope that you will keep your heart open for a ray of sunshine — the birds on the feeder outside your window, an unexpected note from a friend, something funny on TV. I’m a reader, and some days that’s enough for me to be distracted. I’m also lucky to have Marilyn, who is an extremely positive “ray of sunshine” for me. A few minutes of holding hands can do wonders.

I hope that you can find some measure of contentment and peace in spite of your health challenges. This is not easy because all of us like having our little pity parties, but then we can say, “OK, this is my ‘new normal,’ let’s see what I can make of it in spite of my health problems.”

I hope that you can begin to treat yourself with compassion by understanding that being sick or in pain is not your fault. We live in our bodies, and sometimes they get injured or sick or old. It happens; it’s not our fault! A diagnosis of chronic illness can bring with it feelings of denial, anger, and grief. But, at some point, the emotions subside and we are faced with a harsh reality—we are no longer the persons we once were. But it’s not our fault!

So we should focus on our lives and not our health struggles. It would be easy to allow our situations to take over our lives, our relationships, or our families. We can choose to become bitter about our illness, or we can choose to use it as a catalyst for growth. A positive attitude will create hope.

My last wish for all of us in the new year is that our suffering will be reduced, that we can adjust to our “new normal,” that we can find joy among our sorrows, and that we may be at peace.

Contact Roger VanHaren at