Maybe you've coasted through life so far and have been fortunate enough to avoid truly painful or tragic happenings. You may have even developed the illusion that bad things won't come your way, at least not really bad ones.  If so, your mettle has yet to be tested.  In all likelihood, it will be someday, and when that day comes, you may experience a new kind of fear and vulnerability.
Dennis did.
"I never realized how fragile I was inside," he confessed, holding himself tightly as he rocked in his chair.   "Most of us don't until the hard times come.  It's easy to feel strong when your life is squared away," I suggested.  At 46, this successful tradesman with a solid middle-class pedigree had been jarred out of his illusory sense of personal control, well-being and normalcy.  For the first time in his life, he felt emotionally vulnerable and existentially afraid.  The catalyst for this rude awakening had been discovering that his 12 year-old son was gravely ill with a rare form of cancer.  Fate had punched a deep hole in Dennis' heart and had knocked his mental and spiritual legs out from under him.  "It just hit me how up in the air everything is in life.   I mean, we really don't have much control over anything," he went on.   "What scares you most about that?" I asked.  It's just the luck of the draw.  When fate decides to mess with you, there's nothing you can do about it," he explained. 

Sooner or later, most of us get pushed off one of life's existential cliffs.  The shove from behind may be sudden, like the unexpected death of a loved one, a serious illness or accident or some other manner of trouble or tragedy.   People who have been blessed with so-called "easy lives" may find such an unhappy turn of events particularly taxing.  Like Dennis, they may have assumed they were somehow immune to fate's slings and arrows.  "I've had little things go wrong now and then, but this thing with my son...well, I just wasn't ready for it," he lamented.  "I've never had to deal with anything like this before."

 Most often, the challenge is not so much contending with the actual circumstances of the situation as it is coping with one's inner turmoilIt is common for all but the supremely confident or battle-tested to wonder if they can take what life dishes out in its darker moments.  Still, feeling afraid, alone, and plagued with doubt are not signs that one isn't up to the task.

 Dennis was wracked with emotional pain and dread, but he continued to function, to do what needed to be done.  It is true that in such unhappy instances one discovers, as the saying goes, "what one is made of."  However, part of what each of us is "made of" includes being afraid, wondering if we can take it, and feeling small and alone.  These unpleasant and disturbing emotions do not mean that we are weak or without courage.  They mean that we are human.  And that is exactly what you want to be when all hell breaks loose.


Reprinted with the permission of Philip Chard who serves on the ARDS Support Center's Board of Medical and Professional Advisors.  Philip Chard is a psychotherapist, author and trainer.  Call his reader comment line at (262) 547-3986, e-mail him at, or visit his website at


A timely and nice message of thanks to ARDS Support,
and an example of the “fear” faced when confronted with ARDS


From: Constanzers
Date: Wednesday, April 19, 2000 9:33 PM
Subject: Anniversary


A year ago on April 20th our life turned upside down. I was so terrified.  I never felt so afraid. I wish there were words to express that kind of fear, but it is unexplainable. YOU came to our aide!!! The other emotion there are no appropriate words for is our gratitude because it goes well beyond that, for what you all did goes beyond simply helping out. You gave so much to us. You gave us hope, you gave us strength, you gave us your time and love, you gave us our family back!!! It was your prayers and encouragement and love that help bring Larry back to us and how can we say thank you for that. We love you all!!! Mary Ann, Larry, Kris, Jeremy, Jaime, and Daniel 

(sent by Mary Ann Constanzer)