Farewell Annette Funicello: How Her Story Helped Me Cope With The Fear of Being Debilitated by My MS

I’ve thought a lot about fear in the last 12 hours after hearing the news that Annette Funicello died due to complications with multiple sclerosis.
Publish date:
April 10, 2013
fear, ms, Annette Funicello

We all live with fear. Some fears are small like “Will I be late for the interview and lose the job?” Some of them are huge like public speaking and death. Yet to live fully and with meaning, we must learn how to live with fear. I’ve thought a lot about fear in the last 12 hours after hearing the news that Annette Funicello died due to complications with multiple sclerosis.

I live with fear every day –- all created within my mind of course. But one fear I rarely think about is the consequences of dying from multiple sclerosis. In reality, people don’t die of MS, but if it’s progressive then its complications can lead to death. This is small solace for those who have been diagnosed like myself. The fear of dying like Annette is real. It never goes away.

Yet we can’t succumb to the fear. When we do, we give up.

Annette didn’t give up. As she said, “Either you give in to it or you fight it. I intend to fight.” She didn’t give into fear, even just last year undergoing an experimental treatment; CCSVI. Never giving up.

I remember shortly after being diagnosed with MS, I was sent a blog post about a eulogy a mother gave for her son who died of multiple sclerosis. The post included a link to a documentary the mother –- Nancy Slonim Aronie –- made of her son’s journey with MS. I watched about 60 seconds and shut my laptop. I couldn’t watch it. When I sat in a writing workshop with Nancy 14 months later, and it was my turn to say why I was there, I looked at her and burst into tears.

Fear is a funny thing that way. It hides. We think we are on top of it. Then it smacks us in the face. It reminds us of our mortality.

Yet we must go on. A life lived in the vivid presence of fear is not a life lived.

But What If Your Life Means You Can’t Move Or Speak?

A few weeks ago, someone commented on a quote I shared on Facebook. The quote was something about how happiness is created from within. A fan said that was all well and good, unless your body was no longer letting you do the things you loved (I’m paraphrasing here).

Honestly, I didn’t know how to respond. The comment had haunted me. With the news of Annette’s passing I decided to examine my own fear of progressive, debilitating MS. I wondered if I could still be happy if MS prevented me from making art. What if it stopped me from gardening? Or having sex with my husband? What if I did end up like Annette, unable to walk or speak?

And then I stopped myself. Fear again. Fear, rearing its ugly head and taking me out of the beauty of my day.

What Do You Focus On?

It is said that we get what we focus on. That’s why from the beginning, I have focused on being healthy and controlling the things I could control like diet, sleep, stress and exercise. I have refused to focus on the worst-case scenario. I know its there; my head is not in the sand. But I choose to ignore that possibility while at the same time focusing on living fully.

I could easily STOP living while I contemplated the ravages of MS, as I did yesterday when watching the last video of Annette. But as the saying goes, I could get mowed down buy a bus tomorrow so better live today like it’s my last. That’s how I brought myself back to the present moment.

As I watched that video of Annette yesterday, the beautiful and poignant thing I noticed was the love present in her life. It’s not possible to know what was going on in her head as her husband cared for her. But it was clear that she was loved.

When we focus on fear we get fear. When we focus on love we get love. May we all know the love Annette knew.

Keeping Fear Side-lined

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a potentially debilitating disease or not, fear is present within you. It lives in all of us. It lived in me even before the diagnosis. So how do we keep fear on the sideline so we can live life fully and with love?

Here are some practices I’ve used to help me harness the energy of the fear (because that is all it is) and direct that energy into creating your best life possible.

1. Each morning I ask myself “What can I do to make sure I’m a success today?” I then set my three daily intentions around the answer that flows from my gut and heart to my head. Do I need to be strong? Then I better exercise, sleep and meditate today. Do I need to follow my heart? Then I better spend time in nature, serve others and love.

2. Each evening I ask myself “What did I do today to live fully?”

Again, we get what we focus on. If I know I have to answer this question at the end of the day, I increase my chances of not wasting my day on fear. Yesterday the answer was, I examined my fear and made sure I was doing everything humanly possible to nourish my mind, body and spirit.

3. Finally, I mindfully record the answer to “what three things am I grateful for?” Fear and gratitude cannot coexist. It’s that simple. Stay in gratitude and fear cannot thrive. Yesterday I was grateful for my excellent health, the warmer temperatures and how my husband makes me laugh.

As I remember Annette, yes I will remember the girl and then the woman who entertained us and was loved by many. But I’ll also remember her in her final years. It would be easy to look away from how her life ended like I did with Nancy’s son.

Yet to do so would be to miss out on an example of how to live even when we can’t live in the way we desire. As much as we know, and what I was able to glean from all accounts, Annette lived her final years enveloped in love. Love is the ultimate antidote to fear. My heart is with her husband as the stars welcome a new member to the galaxy.

What will you do to be a success today?