This week I was going to write about something funny, something trivial, and something light in order to offset the heartfelt but maudlin tribute that the last column turned into. As I often do, I had something pretty spectacular lined up, guaranteed to make you all laugh. Unfortunately, as I am writing this entry, I simply do not feel like laughing, and when I explain why you will certainly agree.

As I was cruising on the highway, thinking about what subject to pontificate on, the phone text message notification sounded. I picked up my phone and read the text on the screen. The message read “…’s mother suddenly died last night.” In the few seconds before my brain caught up with my eyes, I thought “oh, how terrible.” Then, once my mind took in the full gravity of the situation, I almost had to pull off the road. Someone who was a good friend of mine, someone I had known for almost 20 years, had just lost her mother — a mother whom I had met several times and spoke with on more than one occasion. As my Grandfather had just died less than a week before, I felt the pain more than most.

Despite the news, I got myself together and kept on driving. Allison and I had just begun to discuss the tragedy when the phone rang, this time a voice call. Allison picked up and I heard her say “oh, no! We just saw him!” Knowing what those words probably meant, half of me dreaded her hanging up the phone and half of me was anxious for the call to end. The reason for both was that I wanted to find out who had apparently also died. This was certainly turning into a bad two-week stretch.

When Allie hung up the phone, she told me that her family’s next-door neighbor whom they had known for many years had passed away. Yes, he was almost 90, but it was still unexpected. Strangely, I had just met the man’s wife a few days before, and again, I felt her pain in the special way that only someone who had recently experienced death could. Another tragedy of the inescapable parade of life had marched on by, and I was again sitting in the front row. Since my Grandfather was the first real experience I had with death, it seemed like the world was making up for lost time now that the seal had been broken.

So as you can imagine, Allison and I have spent this week doing those things that you do when people die. Some activities are less pleasant than others, but they are all things that you’d rather not be doing in the first place. To add insult to injury, my disease decided that this was the week my shoulders were going to act up.

No matter how much I prepare for a rough or hectic week, it seems that those are the times my disease decides to really stick it to me. Of course, there is something to be said for stress and its effect on Rheumatoid Arthritis (and the body in general), but I have gone through many stressful times when my disease took a back seat in my life. A back seat, that is, instead of sitting in the passenger seat with a gun pointed at my head and its foot on my pedal. The criteria with which my disease decides when it is going to flare is a mystery to me, but it seems to be only after I have reached my limit for stress and then some.

So, with a busy week from Monday until Sunday, I had to drive with shoulders that were almost unusable at times. Even the shoulder I had replaced was acting up. How that can happen I don’t know, but it was hurting. Frankly, I think I jammed it when I turned the steering wheel on the car too far to the left and encountered a sudden stop after three revolutions. The right shoulder, the one that is still au natural, tends to act up when it is humid out, although that’s not a hard fast rule. When I need to spend the day reaching up high or pulling out weeds, the shoulder acts up as well. It’s hit and miss – it hits me when I will miss my shoulder the most.

So, as you can see, this week has been one of the most trying in recent memory, both physically and emotionally. Each time I heard about another death, my Grandfather’s death hit me square in the gut again. More than once this past week, I curled up in bed at night with tears in my eyes. Fortunately, though, I have learned my lesson from this past two weeks of sadness, and the lesson is this: take care of yourself, and ultimately, don’t let your disease stop you.

Yes, I know it is a horrible cliché, and you’ve heard it since the day you were diagnosed. Yes, I know it’s easier said than done. And, yes, I know that you probably don’t want to hear it again, but I’m saying it nonetheless. None of us knows how much time we have left, be you a 94-year-old grandfather or a 63-year-old mother. I know our diseases make it very hard to enjoy some of the things that most others take for granted, but that’s no excuse not to experience those things yourself. Throw caution to the wind and take that skydiving lesson you’ve always wanted to. Dive in and take a course at the local college to conquer that fear of public speaking you’ve always wanted to lick. Do the things that are on your bucket list as soon as you can, and if you happen to dislocate a hip in the process, chalk it up as a sacrifice to the gods of adventure. It’s worth it — trust me. You want to be able to look back on your life one day, say “my disease didn’t stop me,” and truly mean it.