By Kevin Haas – April 2021

Every case of COVID-19 is someone’s story, and too many of those stories don’t have happy endings. Survivors of serious illness or tragedy are inevitably changed, and their perspective on life, professionally and personally, changes afterward. That perspective may be negative in some situations. Other times it’s quite positive.

3 Things I Learned When I Thought I was to Die of COVID-19

On March 3rd, my wife, Andrea, and I high-fived as we drove home after getting our first COVID-19 vaccine. We thought we were among the lucky ones who got through the pandemic and avoided COVID.

48 hours later, it became apparent that our celebration was premature as I began a six-week journey into illness that landed me in the hospital for a short while and on oxygen for 10 days. For 3-5 days of that period, my ultimate prognosis was uncertain. I feel quite fortunate to have made it through the traumatic experience.

I am now about four weeks into recovery, and my understanding of the lessons learned from my experience is beginning to evolve and deepen. While I am still very much a “work in progress,” my focus now is returning to health (physical, mental, and otherwise) and integrating what I have learned to become a better husband, father, friend and leader. Life is a journey; I am thrilled, and deeply appreciative, to still be on it. I am sharing these lessons in the hopes that you might find some value for your journey as well.

  1. It is the feeling of support and caring that matters most.
    At my low point, I was struggling to breathe, and my body was racked in pain. Walking a few steps to the kitchen could send me into a 30-minute episode of gasping to catch my breath. Isolated and lonely, I did not have the energy to talk to anyone and even texting was hard. As word of my plight trickled out to family and friends, texts, emails and messages through Andrea began to roll in. Words of encouragement and support were the things that kept me going. I felt the “web” of support from my family and friends. And, while I did not have the ability to text back, let alone talk, the feeling of caring from those around me was the strength that I leaned on when it was most needed. As I reflect on this, I am thinking a lot about how I am “showing up” for those around me. I am beginning to examine how I am contributing to the web of support both personally and professionally. As I look more closely, I am beginning to notice some “cracks” in the busyness of the day that allow that pause to notice how someone is doing and make an extra effort to inquire and notice.
  2. Death is closer to me than I pretended.
    Years ago, my teachers worked with me to help me understand and overcome fear of death in order to more fully experience life. During my illness, I became aware that I still have a lot to learn about death! As I was emerging from the COVID “brain fog,” I began to wake up to the idea that death is not separate from life. It is part of life. I realized that I have had a relationship with death where I pretend that it is separate from me. Yes, it is part of life, but it happens to others, and, to me, later. In my illness, I realized that death is right there. Always. It is part of life and part of my life. Over the years, I have had many interactions with friends and clients who have had “near death” experiences. I’ve noticed a common thread that they look at the world differently after their experience. Their perspective changes in a way that is helpful. While I would hesitate to compare my experience to theirs, I do find myself yielding a bit more to a larger perspective. Maybe even slowing down a bit (although my family might argue that one a little). I feel there is more to learn here and oddly, the more I seem to slow down, the faster and easier things that are important to me seem to come together.
  3. I am far more a control freak than I ever imagined.
    Ugh…this one is going to hurt a little bit. I have never identified all that much with “control” as an issue, but apparently, it is there for me in spades. As I descended into illness, I had to let go. There was no other choice as I was too tired, too “brain fogged,” and too incapacitated to do much else. As I emerged from illness and progressed to COVID-recovery, my need to run my life, be “large and in charge,” and direct my day kicked in substantially. Sadly, my energy level, memory, and mental clarity were not up to the task. My control needs were writing checks that I could not physically cash, and I was creating a bit of a mess with those closest to me (see #1 above). I found myself repaying their selfless support with grumpiness, temper tantrums, and the occasional sharply barbed comment. What a mess! I am still learning to make peace with the inner control freak inside. A lot of the lesson seems to be “let go.” I really hate that lesson and always have. I’ve never really understood how to let go of anything, let alone control. Anytime I’ve “let go” of something, I was really just doing something else. So, for me, I think the path forward includes a lot of trusting that if I just do what is needed in flow with those around me, that it will all work out just fine. Oddly, while this does seem to work quite well, it is a bit of a daily challenge to remember as it appears that I am at that stage of integration where I forget this lesson every night while I sleep!

Thank you for reading this. I am wishing you and your family all the best for continued health, joy, and life. Listed below are some of the books that I have leaned on to frame my lessons learned. While I am sure there are many others that might be equally or more helpful, I share these in the hope that you might find what you need here.

  • “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle
  • Just about any book by Adyshanti
  • “God is a Verb” by Rabbi David Cooper

So many of us have stories of a close call with death or tragedy but keep them bottled up inside. I would like to invite you to share your story and the life lessons that came with it. Our hope is to open a back-and-forth dialog with the Stop At Nothing community and create an opportunity for us to learn from each other.

If you want to tell your story or would like assistance working through an experience, please use the form below. I’d love to hear from you and become part of your “web of support.”