Balancing the Rituals of Risk Management

Emma Schmitz avatar

by Emma Schmitz |

Share this article:

Share article via email
Main graphic for

I was born into a risk management family. My parents built a mom and pop insurance agency into a regional empire, and now my brother and I are deep in it, too.

This works because my personality is naturally cautious. I don’t go on solo mountain bike rides longer than 10 miles. I rarely backcountry ski a slope steeper than 30 degrees. I keep a blanket, a fire extinguisher, a first-aid kit, a beanie, a down jacket, and mace in my truck. I like new experiences, but I need to know all that I can before getting started. Improvisation scares the hell out of me.

My mom’s personality appears opposite on the surface; her boisterous exterior makes her seem spontaneous. And while I know she has the tenacity to endure anything that comes at her (e.g., lung transplant), “enduring” is not her idea of fun.

Maybe because my mom, Diana, grew up with uncertainty — how she would eat, who she could trust, how long or short life can be — she has created a safe world for herself that involves delighting in decadent foods, surrounding herself with trustworthy friends, and protecting the ones she loves most.

These are the ways she manages the risks she knows exist.

Goats speckle the hills of the San Francisco Bay Area. Not for milk or meat, but for fire prevention. Routine fuel reduction is an essential risk management strategy for preventing the spread of wildfire.

Walking the three blocks to the grass-munching goats on a hillside in the middle of San Francisco was a milestone my mom hit a week out from her single-lung transplant in May 2020. I watched the goats chew while my mom, a grandmother now, reveled in the presence of children screeching about farm animals.

Breathing in the energy of the little kids, animals, and everything blooming in June, my mom beamed and likely thanked her god for her new lung.

Our rituals of risk management must be balanced with gratitude or we will scare ourselves into a fever. My mom found that balance, while taking 30 pills a day and cooperating with her lung transplant team’s instructions, by noticing small miracles. Witnessing city goats, flowering succulents, and friendly strangers was made possible by one of the biggest miracles of her life: receiving a new lung.

There’s only so much risk management we can do. We reduce fire fuels, we take the pills, we wash our hands, we look both ways. But at some point, faith swoops in and grabs the reins.

On one of our post-transplant recovery walks, we met a woman with her baby near the end of a cul-de-sac. She and my mom exchanged stories as I listened: a lung transplant patient leveling with a young mother with breast cancer, each deep in the ritual dance of Western medicine.

As we parted, my mom told her to keep going in her own way, and she told us to keep going — there was a Zen garden at the end of the road. Someone else’s ritual that the woman borrowed to gain gratitude and strength.

Tucked into a bushy corner, the garden was an oasis of life and spirit. Fresh lilies skirted the life-size stone Buddha. Miniature doors led into the mossy cove as if inviting you to choose your path. Here, quiet faith took the reins and coated my mom and me in a warm, grateful silence.


Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Tony O Donohue avatar

Tony O Donohue

I'm Tony from Ireland and I'm waiting for results of tests to confirm that I have pulmonary fibrosis and it's a worrying time for me. I've read a lot about this disease and it's scary. In Ireland you don't get a lung transplants if you are over 65 years and I'm just gone 66 . So that's it from me for now. Thank all.

Linda Hewett avatar

Linda Hewett

I’m an ex-pat English living nearly 50 years in California. I am an English-trained nurse and a California trained psychologist with 25 years of experience in one of California’s Alzheimer’s Research Centers. My brothers died of IPF, each at 61 years of age, and I watched my youngest brother move along the path to death. I am now having symptoms that are likely IPF.
I have a lot of experience with death and dying and taught a class on Death and Dying at a local State University and have some deep beliefs about planning for a ‘good death.’ We should ALL be planning for a ‘good death’ - which entails making peace with those we love, forgiving those who have hurt us along the way, and actively planning for our care in dying and the celebration of our lives after death - which is so important for those left behind. I have noticed that in the US, people are afraid of death, and avoid talking about it, especially to those who are in the process. This renders many things unapproachable, and many important things left unsaid. And yet, we all must die! The idea of living one day at a time, and celebrating the small things, has much to commend it- even when one is NOT dying. Our culture does not actively promote this approach to life. PF is a scary diagnosis, but there is much power and peace to be gained from actively planning ones care ( experimental drug, transplant, or whatever) and ones demise ( eulogy, funeral, memorial, who comes, what music, readings, etc). I recommend it.
Linda H.

Madonna Kennedy avatar

Madonna Kennedy

in los angeles you have to be as active and youthful as a 65 year old .I am just turned 70 and act like a 6 year old ( I mean 60 year old . I am still employed. If you started your process at 65 surely that counts for something ? with a bit of luck you do not have Pf . love madonna ?


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.