By Alex Avila
Imagine if your soul mate had terminal cancer and were about to die soon—would you marry them? That is exactly what our amazing guest on Love University, Ashley Jackson, did when her fiancé, Troy, was diagnosed with stage 4 nasal cancer—two months after he proposed to her. Not only did they marry, but they are still happily married three years later and Troy has made a full recovery. Here are some of the nuggets of wisdom we learned from Ashley on how to survive and thrive when hearing about a loved one’s terminal diagnosis:
*Match and lead. When a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness, shock, anger, and despair often follow. The loved one may feel like they have a “death sentence” and that their life has ended. Regardless of how they feel, it’s important that you initially match their feelings. If they are sad, you can have empathy for their sadness, and you will speak slower and in a more somber tone to mirror their depleted energy. When they are more optimistic, you can match their optimism and speak in a brighter and cheerier tone. Being sensitive to your loved one’s feeling is part of being empathetic—putting yourself in their shoes. If you try to cheer them up too soon, they may not react well to it because they are mired in a lower emotional state (sadness). The key is to mirror their emotions (match how they are feeling)—whether sad, hopeful, fearful, or peaceful. Then, once you have met them at their emotional level, you can slightly elevate your response. You can offer them your own positive emotions, including optimism and faith, to raise their emotional state. Remember, however, that you will only upgrade your emotional reaction—smile, laugh, joke, be positive—when your loved one is ready to receive it.
*Jump out of the box and live fearlessly. When we hear about a loved one’s cancer diagnosis, or other catastrophic news, the tendency is to give in to fear, worry, and anxiety. Yet, Ashley counsels us to jump out of the small box that fear tries to put us in. You need to realize that life is meant to be lived with love, faith, and courage, and that you can express those sentiments, despite the fear that tries to grip you. Make a list of all the things you want to do with your loved one, including traveling, learning a new skill or hobby, starting a business project or venture, helping others, or trying a new experience. As long as your loved one is physically able to do so, give it a try. Maybe you can throw them a special “life” party, celebrating their life and love. Or, you can take them on a fun treasure hunt on the beach or participate in fun outings and get- togethers with loving family and supportive friends. The important thing is to bring loving energy and fun into your activities together as you recognize that love is the perfect antidote to fear; and joy is the ideal cure for despair.
*Don’t be Happy, Be Joyful. Ashley tells us about a fascinating reversal: Don’t seek to be happy with your loved one—focus on being “in joy” with them. When you’re happy, you need something to “happen” for you to maintain that feeling. Your loved one needs to do or say something that you want them to do or say; this is a form of conditional love that depends on their words and actions matching exactly what you want of them. On the other hand, when you are in joy with your loved one—whether it’s a love partner, child, family member, animal, or close friend—you simply love being with them; you have joy when you’re together. When this happens, you are in the moment in your joyfulness and love—and simply say, “Wow.” With this type of loving energy without expectation, there is never a thought that you will leave that person (or animal)—or that they will leave you—your loving energy is what will always keep the two of you together, even in the plane beyond this life.
In the end, Ashley concludes, love is what helps you pull through whatever ails you in life. She says that her husband, Troy, always tells her that it was her love that made all the difference in his recovery. He says: “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for you.” Take the example of Ashley and Troy to heart and remember to say “I love you” to your loved ones every time you leave them. In this way, you won’t have the regret that you didn’t say it often enough while they were here on this earth. Keep the love alive in your heart every day, and you will never lose the most important things: the memories of your loved one, the joy you shared, and the positive difference you made in the world by the example of your love.