Mourning the Death of Your Previous Life - Part 2

Last updated: September 2020

When you are in mourning for the life you've lost to COPD, denial, disbelief and grief are the easiest emotions to deal with, but they can lead to the stronger emotions.
The emotions that can make or break your chances of having a successful COPD life. If you get hung up on emotions like anger, blame, or depression you'll never successfully accept the loss of your old life. Like I said in Part 1 you are justified in your grief over losing the life you once knew to COPD but in order to make a new life, first you have to deal with and finally say goodbye to the life you've lost never to be regained. So let's start dealing with the last of our emotions so we can move on to accepting our new COPD life and the hope and strength gained from that acceptance.

Anger and Blame
When diagnosed with COPD the anger and blame game begins. I put these two together because it seems whomever/whatever we blame are the ones/things we direct our anger at. COPDers can get angry at their doctor, the cigarette companies, themselves, their parents, their belief system or their God. When those who have never smoked hear from their doctor they have COPD not only can they go into deep denial but become angry at and blame the doctor for doing their test wrong. After all they never smoked how could they have a smoker's disease? They have yet to learn that COPD is more than a smoker's disease - it is an anybody's disease. Many COPDers experience anger/blame and they direct these emotions at the perceived source of their COPD. Either their parents for giving them a bad gene or were smokers and exposed them to secondhand smoke, a spouse that smokes, their work environment, tobacco companies, the government.

No matter what you're angry at, you must remember to control that anger because many times you let your anger put a strain on or destroy relationships. The frustration we feel when we can't complete a simple task causes anger/blame. A few times I've gotten so frustrated over my inability to open a jar I flung it across the room in anger, said a few curse words as if it's the jars fault. After which I stand there staring at the mess I just made angrier and cursing at myself because I know I can't clean it up. There are those that blame and get extremely angry at fate/higher power/God. How many times have you looked up and asked why me? Why me? Many of you have lost your faith, hope, and belief in life in general because of anger and blame. To my way of thinking anger and blame are two destructive emotions that serve no useful purpose. Being angry at or blaming someone or something for your COPD doesn't change the fact that you have it, nor will it make it go away. No matter how angry you become or how many people you blame, the only thing that happens is you become stressed and depressed.

To help you get past the anger and blame you need to put it into perspective with something else along the same lines as COPD. One example: diabetes is another chronic illness that's incurable. Now if you got a diagnosis of diabetes, would you blame your parents, your self, or your spouse because your parents fed you pre-sweetened cereal and let you have too much candy when you were younger? Would you blame yourself for drinking all that pop/soda and eating a lot of sugary treats as a teen?

If you have a stroke/heart attack are you going to blame your spouse, or children for causing it due to them causing you stress? If you get skin cancer, are you going to blame and be angry at your parents for taking you to the beach/pool too many times exposing you to the sun's harmful rays?

I could go on with several other examples but I know you got the idea. I'd bet you said no to every one of those questions I asked. If you did say no then why are you so angry at and blame those same people for your having COPD? The unhappy truth is you're just one of the unlucky ones. The best we can do is get past the anger/blame and come to terms with the hand we've been dealt (no matter how unfair you think it is), and do the best we can to have a long and happy life with COPD.

Hanging onto your anger/blame will only cause feelings of "regret", "what if", "why me", and depression. All of which have a very negative effect on our COPD. You must learn to accept the facts sometimes. Bad things happen and there is nothing you can do to change or stop it from happening. So let go of the anger/blame and move on. Your outlook, relationships, and COPD will be a lot better when you make peace with those emotions.

Many COPDers become depressed when they realize how serious and life-changing COPD is, and the effect it is/will have on their life. To feel depression for a short period of time is to be expected but don't let yourself get stuck in that mode. Depression has a very negative effect on COPD. Depression magnifies the feeling of the anger, blame, guilt, worthlessness, self-pity, fear, feeling of being alone, and that no one understands or wants to be around you. When you fall into the depths of depression it could be because you were unable to come to terms with the other emotions. Being engulfed by a feeling of hopelessness is not a good state of mind for anyone to live with. When you become depressed you tend to dwell on things you've lost, the life you've lost. Those of us who have had COPD for a long time know the effects it can have on the body, lack of appetite, trouble sleeping, no energy. Add depression into the mix and you also have crying spells, periods when you just isolate yourself from the world and even thoughts of suicide could enter the picture. Once you fall into depression you need to pick yourself up and get out of it as quickly as possible. You need to do whatever it takes to get out of that state of despair and back to a life of optimism and hope. No matter what terrible things you've heard about COPD, there's hope that you will see a cure for COPD in your lifetime.

Coping with depression isn't easy but, staying positive, getting a good support system, (getting the negative ones out of/or distance yourself from them), staying strong & never losing hope will help you come to terms with your depression. Find something you can enjoy every day. Trying to manage the parts of your life that you can control is a big help in adjusting to your new COPD life. You'll never be able to control all aspects of your disease, but you can choose to eat healthy meals, take your meds and other treatments as prescribed, exercise, and do as much as you condition allows. Keeping a journal often helps you see how COPD is affecting you and gives you an idea of ways you can improve your life. Remember it is ok to cry, it's a good release. I know I always feel better after a good cry. Just don't get stuck in the poor me crying mood. It only leads to more depression. Acknowledging and accepting the fact your life will never be the same, and finding COPD groups in which other people are having the same feelings and can relate to what you're going through is a must. Seek professional help if feelings of depression become overwhelming or long lasting.

Acceptance and Hope
The ones that are most successful in living with COPD are those that have finally accepted the limitation COPD has put on them and created a new life around those limitations. Once you get rid of all the negative emotions you'll find that you overall feel better. Most of the stress (caused by the negative emotions), is gone and your outlook on life is brighter and more hopeful. Longtime COPDers like myself have a positive attitude, stay strong, and never give up hope. No matter what the doctors or anyone else says, no one is born with an expiration date stamp on our bottoms. COPD may be progressive and incurable at this time. However, that doesn't mean it needs to progress quickly or that there will not be a time when it will be curable.

According to the doctors I should be dead. The first time I was told I was at death's door was 13 years ago, the second time was 8 years ago. I've been on and off Hospice, I'm maxed out on all medicines and treatments, yet I still live alone and manage quite well. I do have a good support system, I have never had anyone in my family or any of my friends ever complain or give me an excuse about doing something I asked them to do for me. I've even had my granddaughter send their boyfriends over to help me out if they couldn't and my step daughter Susan calls me every day to see if I need anything that she or my grandsons can do for me. The oldest of my grandchildren are in their 20s. Now they remember my life before I became sick. They remember the camping, swimming, the fishing, hiking, and coming to grandma's every weekend cooking and doing crafts. The younger ones only remember me the way I am now from the time they can remember since I've been on oxygen for 17 years. The reason I'm telling you all this is to let you know that with acceptance and hope comes strength. With that strength and my belief in God a good life with COPD is doable.

You need to find ways to adjust to your new COPD life and in doing so you'll realize that you can do more than you thought possible. Life doesn't end because you have COPD, so come to terms with your grief for the past cannot be changed, to continue mourning brings only stress and depression. Stop worrying about and dreading the future and things that may never happen, it only brings fear and anxiety. Stop dwelling on your lost life, it is gone. Start anticipating the future with hope and start enjoying the presence.

I may have COPD, a progressive, incurable disease with physical limitations, but I'm more than my COPD. I'm still the person I was before being diagnosed, and SO ARE YOU. Time to put the grief & mourning behind you and look toward your future with optimism. Breathe deep and easy.

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on March 2, 2018, Mary Ultes passed away. Mary was an engaged advocate for the COPD community who strived to help people live fulfilling lives. She is deeply missed.

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