I finally figured out what I’m doing wrong. I figured out why I’ve been having so much trouble with Dad’s move into the nursing home, with his recent decline, and with his current fevered state. It’s not that I’m afraid of him dying, it’s that I don’t want him to be uncomfortable. I don’t want him to be without comfort – emotional, physical, spiritual…. I want to shield him from that. And that’s too much for one person to do. In fact it’s not possible for any one person to do. None of us has that kind of power. Not even a whole team of humans has that kind of power. Because we’re human and it’s not within the scope of any human being.
That’s the point. And I finally, finally got it. I haven’t been able to completely place my trust in the staff of the nursing home because they are human. Even the compassionate, empathic, intuitive ones have bad days. Even the perceptive, knowledgeable, skilled nurses have limits. And certainly I can’t be there 24 hours a day making sure everyone does everything right. (Yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to do – monitor his every position, his every expression, looking for a nuance of pain or discomfort, constantly trying to assess whether or not he is okay – physically, emotionally. It was exhausting. No wonder I have dark circles under my eyes. I’m trying to do the impossible – protect someone from all possible harm.)
I was lying in bed tonight, exhausted, sad, full of grief, feeling my love, my fears, my tears. Then I turned on the light and looked at the card I had selected for guidance from the angel card deck. It was titled “Family.” It said, “This situation is rooted in an emotional experience with a family member, which we can help you to understand and heal. In your mind and heart, surround this person, yourself, and the experience with calming blue light and many angels. Be open to the gifts within the situation, and allow yourself to feel peace.”
I was having trouble imagining the blue light. (I’m not always very good at guided visualization.) I just felt sad. I would encourage myself to try again to picture light, to send healing energy, and then it finally, finally occurred to me: I’ve been putting my faith in the wrong people. I’ve been putting my faith in people!
I realized I couldn’t completely trust the staff. (After all, I was the one who noticed the fever; I noticed when they didn’t have a pillow behind his head leaving his head tilted back in a too-short chair without any support; I noticed when he’d been overfed and food had been left, unswallowed and sitting in his mouth leaving him in danger of aspirating; I noticed when he was too hot or his feet were cold or there was something scratching his neck or cutting off the circulation in his arm.) They weren’t “bad” people. In fact most of them were wonderful people. But they were people, and thus fallible. So if I wasn’t able to trust the staff, could I at least learn to trust the Angels? Could I trust Jesus, the one whom my Dad so loved and honored? Could I trust God, the freakin’ Creator of the Universe???
This was my big test! The only way I would ever achieve any measure of peace was if I could learn to TRUST that a heavenly team was not only hearing my prayers, but willing and eager to do as I asked – i.e., keep Dad comfortable and give him peace.
That’s all I want. I’m not asking that he be kept alive indefinitely. I know there is divine wisdom in the cycle of life and death. I know that there is life after death. I’m not even asking that there be a miraculous cure to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. All I want is for Dad to feel peace. And I think I can trust them to do that.
That’s my test. This is what I need to learn. I need to learn to trust the NON-human realm (and maybe a few angels in human disguise.) Once I learn this, I will find peace. And that is probably the other lesson for me: Can I allow myself to have peace?
Here is one more opportunity for me. In the face of both the kindness and capability I see as well as the fallibility, can I bless each nurse, aide, and administrator I see? Can I send blessings and love to the “good ones” and the kind ones as well as those who seem not quite as devoted or sensitive? Can I infuse the whole floor with love? And can I let them see my peace instead of my fear? Now THAT would be a very good thing.
Ahhh. So much to learn.
Peace to you.
I read today that when we are chronically dissatisfied and sink into a morass of misery, we become like a toxin, poisoning not only our own bodies and those around us, but the world itself. By contrast, Gratitude is a blessing. When you practice Gratitude, you are offering a great gift not only to yourself, but to those around you, and even to the world.
So I’m going to play the Gratitude Game again. For ten minutes, I’m going to type all those things I am grateful for at this moment in time. (And I know ten minutes will not be enough time.) Ready, set, go!
I am grateful to have friends who feel like family. And I’m grateful to have grown up in a functional and loving family. I’m grateful for my parents and I’m grateful for my siblings. I’m grateful for the staff at the nursing home who are taking good care of Dad. I’m grateful for the caregivers who are assisting Mom.
I’m grateful for the meal I had tonight and my friends who cooked it. I am grateful for this warm house, for a bed to sleep in, for a hot shower and an indoor toilet. I am grateful for electricity and stoves and refrigerators and sinks. I am grateful to have a car and I’m really grateful to the friends who have lent me theirs while I am visiting my parents for a while.
I am grateful to the dogs and cats who live with my friends. I am grateful for the love these animals so readily show us flawed humans. I am grateful for people who work hard to rescue animals. I am grateful to animals in the wild – to wolves and whales and wombats; to bats, butterflies, and birds; to cats, coyotes, and coatimundis; to all animals.
I am grateful to trees and to flowers and to grasses and herbs and mosses. I am grateful to pumpkins and pears, walnuts and pine nuts, apples and avocados, basil and tarragon and thyme. I am grateful for real honest-to-goodness food. I am grateful to the farmers who grow food. I am grateful for farmers markets and food co-ops.
I am grateful for the beauty of the Earth – for oceans and rivers and seas, for forests and dessert and tundra, for grasslands and mountains and wetlands. I am grateful for water. For aquifers and springs and rain and snow. I am grateful for the sun and moon and stars. I am grateful for clouds and rainbows and thunderstorms. I am grateful for seasons and I’m grateful for weather. I’m grateful for fresh air and wind and gentle breezes. I’m grateful for tides and waves and waterfalls.
I’m grateful for books and music, for language and touch. I’m grateful for hugs and kisses, massages and tickles, smiles and lovemaking. I’m grateful for dancing and walking and running. I’m grateful for bending and stretching. I’m grateful for this body.
And my time is up.
There is so much to be grateful for. May I never forget. May I never take anything in my life for granted.
I have been noticing that my normally ebullient self has been less so lately. This is, of course, natural when one or both beloved parents are ailing and approaching that gateway to the next world. However I am kind of amazed at how buffeted my emotions have been by circumstances. I prefer to think of myself as “stronger” and more grounded than that. Well, apparently I’m not!
This morning as I awoke feeling down I thought, ‘Oh man. Is this what it feels like for my friends who suffer from depression?’ Yikes! Not fun!!! I much prefer to wake up in my mountain home, gaze out the window at those massive guardians that stretch toward the ever-changing sky, walk outside to breathe the fresh mountain air, and feel utter joy. But right now, that is not my path. Right now I am choosing to be an emotional support, a problem-solver, and a witness to the transitions of both my parents, and this is not always a fun path.
Today I have found myself several times thinking of that Bible verse: “Be thankful in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) I can actually do the thankful part. I am thankful that I have such dear parents. I am thankful that we’ve been able to care for them at home as long as we have. I am thankful there is a big team of staff people now caring for Dad – providing many of us, including Mom, a bit of much-needed relief. I am thankful that Dad qualifies for hospice and that we have an additional team of superb nurses, aides, and social workers at our disposal. I am thankful that I have had such a wonderful father in my life. I am thankful that there has been some improvement in his level of discomfort. And I’m thankful that I’m at peace about what happens after death.
But what about that “joy” thing? Is there any way I can conjure up some authentic joy in the midst of sometimes trying and sad circumstances? What about that verse that comes slightly before the “Be thankful” part? “Rejoice always.” (I Thessalonians 5:16) That’s the trick, isn’t it? I don’t want to simply paste a ridiculous smile on my face when it’s inappropriate or inauthentic, but if there is a way for me to be in a more consistent state of joy and peace, I would like to be able to do that.
I understand there are spiritual adepts such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nat Hahn who exhibit a rather omnipresent state of joy. This is something I would like to cultivate. How can I be a peaceful and joyous person in spite of external circumstances? I’ve decided to consult the Dalai Lama and see what he advises. Here are a few of his pearls of wisdom:
- “When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.”
- “Human happiness and human satisfaction must ultimately come from within oneself.”
- “How can we eliminate the deepest source of all unsatisfactory experience? Only by cultivating certain qualities within our mindstream. Unless we possess high spiritual qualifications, there is no doubt that the events life throws upon us will give rise to frustration, emotional turmoil, and other distorted states of consciousness. These imperfect states of mind in turn give rise to imperfect activities, and the seeds of suffering are ever planted in a steady flow. On the other hand, when the mind can dwell in the wisdom that knows the ultimate mode of being, one is able to destroy the deepest root of distortion, negative karma and sorrow.” (The above 3 quotations are from http://www.myrkothum.com/10-most-inspirational-dalai-lama-quotes/)
- “From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment. Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.”
- “Joy and happiness, by definition, are the results or fruits of wholesome actions.”
- “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.” (The above 3 quotations are from http://www.squidoo.com/dalai-lama-quotes)
- “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
Here are some other pearls from other wise ones:
- “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” (Thich Nhat Hahn)
- “We find the greatest joy, not in getting, but in expressing what we are.” (R.J.Baughan)
- “The pleasantest things in the world are pleasant thoughts, and the great art of life is to have as many of them as possible.” (Montaigne) (The above 4 quotations from http://www.inspirationpeak.com/joy.html)
Okay, here are my thoughts on all of the above. I don’t know that simply practicing compassion, kindness, and love necessarily leads one to a place of joy (no offense intended, Your Holiness, and not to say that I don’t wholeheartedly advocate compassion.) However, I do agree that smiling when possible and cultivating positive and pleasant thoughts can make a difference. I can, for instance, begin to let go of my worry about Dad’s care by affirming, “Dad is in a good place filled with caring people.”
I also agree that no one else can “make me happy.” The opportunity to be happy is always my choice. Therefore I can say, when feeling sad, “I understand this sadness, I don’t judge this sadness, and I choose to not remain here. It is okay for me to choose joy.”
In fact, I remember when I was separated from my husband almost twenty years ago. I would occasionally sink into a morass of sadness, guilt, and shame. A turning point came when, at one point, my husband encouraged me to “let the joy in.” It seemed I simply needed to give myself permission to feel joy.
And here are my final words on this topic today:
It’s a process. One learns through practice. Life is not always filled with warm fuzzy good circumstances. I need to learn joy in all circumstances by experiencing many circumstances and then choosing to allow myself to feel peace and joy in the midst of them.
I’ll work on this. Meanwhile, I send out blessings of peace and joy to you. May we all be so blessed.
When someone you love is very ill or dying, life has a way of shrinking. You may find yourself pulling back from the rest of the world as you shift your focus to this one you love. All the sudden your world becomes you and your loved one and whoever else interacts with the two of you, and that’s it.
You may find yourself losing interest in anything non-essential. You may find yourself unable to muster the energy to hang out with friends. Anything noisy or chaotic or busy may feel too overwhelming. Like your loved one, you may find you need to focus inward.
You may find yourself postponing projects and canceling engagements. You may find yourself not caring about monetary things, not caring so much about your own health, and not caring about anyone else’s petty concerns.
You may find yourself sad and lethargic. You may find yourself quiet. You may find yourself sitting in a chair with no impulse to move anywhere.
All of this is normal in such a situation. You are wrestling with some big emotions – worry and fear, sadness and grief, compassion and love.
This is a time for great gentleness. This is not the time for self-judgment or shame. You are in one of the great existential periods of your life. You may find yourself asking “why” questions and coming up with no easy answers. Or perhaps your head understands a bit about what is going on but your heart is struggling nevertheless.
So what do you do when someone you love is very ill or dying? You love them to the best of your ability. And you try to remember to love yourself as well.
This is hard work. Being ill and dying is very hard work. And loving the person who is very ill or dying is hard work. Please be exceedingly kind to yourself. This is a tender and fragile time.
Ask for help when it’s needed. Ask for support from those able to give it. Seek comfort and guidance from your God and angels, if you believe in them. And please, don’t do too much. Spend time in solitude. And if some healthy distraction is needed, allow yourself to succumb. Being a witness, a presence, and a support to someone struggling through an illness or death can be a marathon. And sometimes you may simply need a break. Allow it.
I am in this place right now. And for those of you who are as well, I send much love.