On Really, Really Living Life
A Note From Wayne
Well, it was my intent to send out one more issue of Into the Centre before year's end, and I made it.
That being said, much has happened since the last issue. On December 26th, my dad died.
For those of you that knew Chuck, you'll remember a funny, engaging and caring man, who loved life unreservedly, and who never tired of adopting the people I brought into my life. Principally, Dar. He took to her from the day he met her (he always had good taste - he'd say it was genetic, and that he got it from me...)
So, this ITC, instead of New Year's wishes, has an article that revolves around the past few days. It's a word about living fully even when times are difficult. (As they are in Wayne's world, and as they decidedly are in a world where 60,000 can die in an instant.)
Our condolences to those of you who have lost family members - whether recently or in the past. We stand with you, and hold you close.
Here's a picture of dad and me, from Xmas 2003.
Peace and love for 2005,
Wayne and Dar
As I noted in the Introduction, my dad died on December 26th (Boxing Day in Canada.) He'd been in a Nursing Home since last March, mostly because his eyesight had deteriorated and he was having little falls. At 92, that's not bad.
It was our habit to see dad once a week, and on the 12th dad and Dar and I had coffee in the lounge. By the 19th he had a foot infection, and a week later, he was dead.
I just spent a moment looking back to November of 2000, and to the article I wrote when my mom died. And I find myself wanting to write similar things today. Perhaps, though, what I really want to say is that, to quote the cliché, "death is a part of life."
As Ben and Jock write in the first chapter of The NEW Manual for Life, death is the only destination of all of the "trains." It is thus stupid to stand around, waiting for the "right" train.
I mention that story because of what comes next. (And because I love the book.) The point they make, and the nexus of my experiences this week, is that a well lived life is determined by the interactions that happen, person to person, on whatever train one is on. It's about fully engaging in the ride of life, without exception and without judgement. Perhaps nothing is more important than whom we choose to ride with, and how we choose to relate.
Let me tell you a couple of stories. The thing I am most "about" is choosing to live in a state of simple, clear and focussed presence. (Pretty much the sole purpose of Into the Centre is presenting this concept.) After decades of practice, I think I am getting the hang of it, which might mean I'm not (Zen joke.) When I live in the present moment, moment by moment, I find it difficult to get so wrapped up in my drama that I miss what's happening around me.
So, here's a couple of stories about what I noticed:
The staff at Wellington Terrace in Elora, Ontario, was absolutely wonderful with my dad this last week. They moved heaven and earth to make him comfortable. As Dar and I continued to express our gratitude, we noticed a curious thing. As we spoke, the nurses started to share their experiences.
And it was clear, (although no surprise), that we were behaving out of the norm. The nurses indicated that, quite often, they bear the brunt of family's grief. They get the blame. They accept this, and it is very, very difficult, as they are doing what they can.
In a sense, they are at cross purposes when this drama erupts. The family member wants "mom" or "dad" to get better, and yet, people go to Nursing Homes to die. Because the family member cannot accept the reality of the actual situation, they shift to criticism and anger.
The story I tell myself is that grief is a difficult, pain filled thing, one of those supposedly negative emotions people in the West go to great lengths to repress. So, they externalize their grief into other, more "manageable" and familiar things.
Like anger and blaming.
I kept seeing relief when Dar and I talked with the nurses, as opposed to shouting at them or demanding more of them than they were capable of doing. On Christmas Day, dad was in considerable pain. They'd started dosing him with Morphine. He was flailing a bit and also reacting to the drug. This was not, emphatically, easy to watch. There is a part in all of us that wants to "make it stop," to make it all better. And there is no better.
So, I'd hear the charge nurse say, "We can't seem to control his pain." I'd say, "I'm glad you are doing what you can to make him comfortable." In each case, eyes would widen, and there would be relief. Then a sigh, then wet eyes, and "He is such a sweet man." One even shared that she often proposed to dad. And she fondly remembered him saying, with a laugh, "There's only been one woman in my life, and she's gone, so I'll have to decline." As Dar and I settled in with dad, and with the nurses, the pain, for us (and I suspect, for dad,) did become bearable.
Another emotion on the, "I don't like it" list is surely helplessness. Yet, to really live life, helplessness needs to be embraced.
Flies right in the face of the Western notion of power. Yet, at the "gut check" level, we know that much of life is totally out of our hands. In fact, all there really is, is this: circumstances, and how I choose to respond to them.
Seeing my dad in pain, clearly dying, rapidly and yet in a sense by inches, was not easy. How could it be? I love him. I hurt as I watch. However, I could not fix what ails him. Nor could anyone else. Life, remember, is a terminal illness.
So, my choice narrows to either accepting my helplessness and remaining present, both to him and to my pain, or demanding that someone to fix the situation. Since it can't be fixed, then at least I'd have had the option of turning my helplessness to anger, as I'd have someone else to blame for their supposed "failure."
I chose the former.
I've written about this a lot: as soon as you notice that you are blaming someone else for how you are feeling, your best course of action is to give yourself a shake, have a breath, and embrace your experience.
Here's another observation:
I'm glad I read the article I wrote 4 years ago, as this morning's process is a near duplicate. Here is a partial list of what I did to me in the last 24 hours: I got the paperwork done. I felt sorry for myself. I annoyed myself over things that were happening. And weren't happening. I sulked. I felt sorry for myself. I sighed a lot. I got grumpy. I tried to pick little fights with Dar, who calmly refused to bite.
This morning, I woke up in that same fog, and annoyed myself whilst lying abed. Dar, wise soul and amazing person that she is, rolled over and (ah, the joys of Bodywork...) pushed semi-hard downward on my chest. There was one little dime shaped point there that hurt a lot. I took one breath, and sobbed and sobbed, for 10 minutes or so.
Same story, different parent, 4 years ago.
My mind was busy creating dramas and dilemmas to keep me out of my body and therefore out of my pain. And my heart missed my daddy, and I needed to let go. Dar provided the "push," and I provided the "let go."
Am I done? Of course not! I am done with that one.
And another observation:
Our friends have provided safe havens. My mom-in-law Dorothy hauled me in for a big hug. My niece Lisa held me and reminded me to "just let it out." Our "kids" Dave and LeAnne have been spectacular on the phone, and Debashis (you'll remember his articles, back when he wrote, hint, hint…) and Adrienne end up with us in a heap on their doorstep, a week before dad died, when Dar and I first learned what was coming. They just held us and cared with us, and then made us tea.
Because none of them could fix it, you see.
There is nothing to fix.
If I stay present with the pain, and with the joyous memories, with the dance, with the drama, I am able to breathe.
If I let my feelings be, and express them as they arise, they move through, and each moment it's something new.
If I avoid fixating "out there," whether through blame or anger, or even by telling myself "he's in a better place," I can just be with what really is.
A void. A whole, and a hole.
And this too, like everything else, shall pass, is passing.
I choose to stay present for the ride.
With me, with family, with you.
Blessings for 2005!
In addition to a lovely condolence from Ben 'n Jock, came the following.
I'm still laughing!
CHRISTMAS CAROLS FOR THE DYSFUNCTIONAL:
Schizophrenia --- Do You Hear What I Hear?
Multiple Personality Disorder --- We Three Queens Disoriented Are
Amnesia --- I Don't Know if I'll be Home for Christmas
Narcissistic --- Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me
Manic --- Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees and Fire Hydrants and ...
Paranoid --- Santa Claus is Coming to Get Me
Borderline Personality Disorder--Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire
Personality Disorder --- You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll tell You Why
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ---Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle