Why ‘Brave-Making’ Is Important to Caregiving


Why ‘Brave-Making’ Is Important to Caregiving

For our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, my husband, Gary, and I took an Alaskan cruise. This year, as a 'brave-making' venture, I booked a cruise to the last frontier. Alone.


Photo: Marlys Johnson


Debilitating disease, aging, and disabilities can be bullies and thieves. In our case, cancer pushed Gary and me around for a while and stole a good deal of our courage.

In time, though, we determined to step out into unknown, scary places. We took up hiking and snow-showing in our middle years to help counteract the side effects of treatment. We applied to become a non-profit, wrote for grant funding, and shared our proactive cancer message to a variety of audiences in all regions of the country.

And then widowhood became my new mantle and claimed what little bit of bravery I had left.

'Brave-making' is my term for fighting the urge to wrap the security blanket of my routine around me, with stacks of books and pots of tea nearby. Brave-making is doing things alone that I’d only ever done with Gary.

Hence, the solo trip to Alaska.

Here’s what I eventually learned:

  1. Courage doesn’t magically re-materialize by itself.

  2. I have to practice brave-making; it’s not a once-and-done thing.

The highlights of this particular Alaskan adventure are what you would expect: Canoeing across a lake to view Hubbard Glacier up close and personal. A catamaran into Sitka Sound to spot otters and eagles, and chance upon eight or nine whales showing off their acrobatic skills. Steaming into Hubbard Glacier Bay to observe the calving. A brawny lumberjack show. The beauty and history of Victoria.

But there was an unexpected highlight for me.

For my first dinner onboard ship, I opted to eat alone. But the next day, there was a scheduled lunch for “solo travelers,” which I’m guessing is a nice way of saying, “People with no friends onboard.”

 Why not? I thought, even though it took a bit of forced courage to do so.

But after that lunch I was hooked. I wanted to eat the rest of my meals with as many different people as possible. And I wanted to hear their stories: What was your favorite place in the world to visit? How did you two meet and fall in love? Where would you like to travel next?

I recently came across this thought from H. Jackson Brown, Jr.:
Be brave. Even if you’re not, pretend to be. No one can tell the difference.

This describes me. Caring for my husband with a terminal diagnosis stole a good chunk of my audacity. And then widowhood took the rest. Without my permission.

And so I have to practice being brave. I have to pretend I have courage until … well, until I actually have courage.

Because this is the kind of heart I wanted as a cancer caregiver and now as a widow: Audacious and unruly with holy resoluteness in order to make a difference in my corner of the world.

Which begs the question: What have you done lately that made you more courageous? I’d love to hear about your brave-making ventures.

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