I hope you are well and remaining flexible in the face of the many changes that continue to be stirred up in our world.
I write this from 14 days of quarantine as last week I travelled to the US to be with my 94-year old father before he died. And while he will be counted as a Covid death statistic, I am seeing it not as a tragedy, but as the vehicle for his release. Blind, memory-challenged, and needing 24/7 care for the simplest activities (like finding the bathroom), he has been brave and positive even after losing my mother a year ago. Restrictions to prevent Covid imposed by his care home had since eliminated any remaining small activities he could still enjoy.
I was able to spend time with him – fully garbed in PPE – before he passed. It touches me that his death process reflected how he had been in life: uncomplaining, patient, appreciative of others. As I was walking by his window to come see him last Wednesday morning, without fanfare or struggle he simply stopped breathing and flew off.
Some years ago I wrote about my father in a newsletter and thought to share it again as the message remains pertinent to me and may speak to you as well.
When Life Strips Us Down
Recently my 90 year old Mother broke her hip and is spending some weeks in a rehab hospital. My Dad, a juvenile diabetic since the age of 7, takes insulin 4 times/day but is blind and has early Alzheimers. During Mom’s recovery, I had the privilege of looking after him for 10 days.
Over the past years, Dad has gone from being a vital, athletic, intellectual, independent adult to having quite a small window of self-determination – and yet his attitude continues to be positive and accepting. A voracious reader and avid historian, he can no longer even see to dial a phone but despite such limitations, he is ever cheerful. Well-known within their retirement community, people continually tell me how much he inspires them. Stripped away of so much that he once held dear, he nevertheless continues to live his life as fully as he is able, without complaint.
Life brings us a mixed plate. Sometimes sickness is healed, limitations reversed or a reconciliation takes place. But there will be times we have no choice, something will never “get better.” To move forward ourselves, we must eventually lay down our grief, anger or resentment and look for a way to integrate a perceived loss. When there will be no storybook ending, negotiating that journey becomes the truer line between “dis-ease” and “health.”
Early in my homeopathy training, our teacher, Murray Feldman, shared a story from his practice. A woman came to him in an advanced stage of cancer, seeking help. Murray frankly told her he doubted a cure would be possible, but homeopathic treatment could help her be more comfortable and present through the rest of her time. Shortly before her death, she sent Murray a note thanking him for his help; she had since connected with all those she cared about and as she approached the end of her life, all that was left, was love.
A deep cure is not necessarily of the physical.
Our circumstances may be judged outwardly as “bad” or “good” but how we walk the journey is more the point. How we find a way to integrate our losses so that their tender place within becomes the avenue to greater freedom. And how we don’t cling to the moments of our “good fortune” but simply appreciate with whole heart.
Good things surely feel good but life will strip us down, “bad stuff” will happen. Our immediate response (grief, anger, despair) momentarily helps us cope but eventually outlives its usefulness. Staying stuck in one response compounds the loss as it eventually colors the lens through which we experience all of life. Only when we can integrate our losses through their pain can we eventually move beyond the limitations of fear, resentment and anger into the fuller expression of the joy and love underlying us all.
As long as we are ruled by the losses – or even ruled by the fears of such perceived losses – our world is limited. Finding our way to freedom despite and even through the realities of our physical world is the underlying journey of life.
She who is centered in the Tao
Can go where she pleases without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
Even amidst great pain
Because she has found peace in her heart.
(Tao Te Ching Chapter 35
Stephen Mitchell Translation)
Reaching for peace, no matter what life brings,