As if I was not afraid

The morning after his open he surgery, I asked Matt if he was OK and gave me his traditional signal to reassure me. Washington DC, April 2014

The morning after his open heart surgery, I asked Matt if he was OK
and he gave me his traditional signal to reassure me. Washington DC, April 2014

“There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to ‘mean’ horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.”Theodore Roosevelt

“Make believe you’re brave
And the trick will take you far.
You may be as brave
As you make believe you are.” Oscar Hammerstein II

Now that Matt is an adult, we are no longer able to shield him from discussing the realities of his heart condition.  His cardiologists understand that his disabilities do not preclude his ability to participate in his own care, and I have appreciated how they never talk down to him.

Matt’s heart surgery in late April, the fifth time his chest has been cut open, was his riskiest since the first one he had as an infant.  During the months leading up to April, and to some extent during the years in which the doctors were putting off the inevitable, there was much talk about the reasons for postponing it as long as possible.  The situation is complex, and the medical team wanted us to be aware of the difficulties inherent in the goals they hoped to accomplish during the long hours in the operating room.

This time, Jeff and I saw a difference in Matt that told us he understood the gravity of his medical situation.  At his cardiology appointments, where he always shares jovial exchanges with the staff he has come to love, he was also pensive, almost somber as his case was being reviewed.  We saw signs of this quiet reflection at home, too, in the weeks leading up to surgery.

Whenever I would ask Matt if he was afraid, he would answer either “no” or “maybe” but then go on to another subject.  He seemed determined to keep his fears (which must have been many) under control.  During the difficult weeks that followed, he was mostly stoic in the face of tremendous pain, and apologetic about asking for help when he needed it.

Matt has shown a similar determined optimism about Jeff since he was diagnosed with cancer.  Though at times he has clearly had anxiety from watching his Daddy suffer (particularly when Jeff had an extreme adverse reaction to chemo that left him covered in painful lesions) he continues to affirm his belief that his father is going to get well.  He knows from hard experience that illness hurts, and that it often gets worse before it gets better.

Some might conclude that Matt’s optimism is related to his developmental limitations, and perhaps this is true.  But I need look no farther than Jeff to know that Matt’s courage appears to be a genetic predisposition, one that has prompted more than one person we know to observe “like father, like son.”

I’m sure you know people such as Jeff and Matt, who minimize their own suffering and go about life with great determination and strength.  Such people are wonderful examples to those of us who have thus far been fortunate enough to avoid such medical trauma.  Courage, like many other admirable traits, feels a bit contagious at times, a reassurance to us that it’s possible to survive and thrive.

If there’s anything frightening you today, I hope you will remember Roosevelt’s advice (or Hammerstein’s) and “fake it till you make it.”  Your courageous actions will plant seeds of inner bravery, in yourself and others.

One year ago today:

Ultimately worthwhile

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Susan

    Julia, what you have been through … you are one of the most courageous people I know.

    • Susan, we need a long lunch update sometime soon. Much has happened since we last talked, but the short version is that Matt is now facing his most formidable challenge ever. I have to believe I’m still standing only because of divine mercy and the prayers of so many. Thanks for being here and for your encouragement!

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