At our age, when it seems like we have worked hard and should now get to relax and enjoy the fruit of our labors, many of us find ourselves caring for aging parents, an ill sibling or life-partner, or even a grown child who is sick and unable to care for themselves. We hadn’t counted on this twist of fate.
How do we give the very best of ourselves to them, and still take care of ourselves? How can we grow through the process, by surrendering to it, creating an opening through our own pain and suffering to help the rest of the world?
It might sound like a tall order, but it is possible.
The Crisis: My son has MS. While he has always bounced back before, he seems to have “run out of bounce.” The disease has become quite demanding.
My Actions: Accompany him to doctor appointments. Handle paperwork. Ask direct questions. Be sure to get him answers, timelines, and clear next steps.
My Goal: Help my son (as best as I can) organize a new way of life and build a support network, while accepting that he is an adult with his own ideas. Stay positive and proactive. Encourage him to practice loving kindness toward himself.
My Self-Care: Besides being sure I’m getting enough rest, and eating right (this isn’t the time to stuff all of my feelings with junk food and booze) I spend as many moments as possible meditating.
Tonglen is a practice I learned from Linda, my therapist, and by reading the works of Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun. Tonglen opens the heart and cultivates love and compassion.
“By embracing, rather than rejecting, the unwanted and painful aspects of experience, we can overcome fear and develop greater empathy for others.” I really, really want that.
On any given day, my prayer might sound like this: “For all the women in the world suffering from fear of the unknown about a loved one’s health, wellness, and future, I inhale your fears… and exhale ease, peace, and faith.”
I am one of those women now.
Through the practice of Tonglen, I feel connected, centered again, and it gives me a sense of inner strength. I heartily recommend my two favorite books by Pema Chodron: Tonglen, the Path of Transformation and When Things Fall Apart. Also, Anne LaMott’s beautiful book, Help. Thanks. Wow.