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making more room

by Judy
May 12, 2014

Lately I started thinking about emotional resiliency as a few weeks ago it had been quite intense - a combination of my mom being more unhappy and uncomfortable than usual - so sensitive that even kidding around was often too much for her and having computer difficulties that created ongoing problems. I felt like I had to expand myself to allow for this increased intensity - let it land on a wider, deeper field within.

I have never been particularly patient when having to deal with difficulties. I remember when I was a kid and my Dad tried to help me with Math. I would get frustrated very quickly and have trouble “hanging in there” with him. And now in retrospect I can see that for many years I was self-indulgent with my feelings creating unnecessary “dramas.” I did not have a lot of inner metal. This perhaps was partly due to being in many ways a very “sensitive” introverted person – my inner life was all important – which has its value, but often meant I didn't have a lot of strength when the knocks inevitably came.

And then I became a Buddhist and was on retreat meditating for many years, or working at retreat centers. For myself, as beneficial as this was, it didn’t still prepare me to meet life’s vicissitudes as it might have. It rather gave me a respite from meeting life head on…and a great relief in that way, but it also did not strengthen me emotionally.

I did, at some point in the last twenty-five years, begin to develop this resiliency and it is still developing.

In being now a caregiver for my mom, this emotional resiliency becomes most important. One thing I’ve noticed is when my mom is being particularly “difficult,” and by that I mean in a seemingly inconsolable place – which doesn’t happen all that often – but when she is, there is at times this movement in myself to want to get away from her and the whole situation. At that moment, I have a choice to either turn away physically and emotionally, or move towards her. And I have been choosing to turn towards her and go against that first response, that is very human, but ultimately not satisfying. I don’t understand exactly how it works, but it is powerful when one moves towards love and the desire to comfort and bears the discomfort of one’s own emotional responses.

There are other times where I do take some “space” so to speak knowing that I can’t address all her needs and there are other people with her as well.

It’s also so essential to be communicating with others, with friends and family. It’s not about keeping it all stoically inside. Sometimes just a few words can make all the difference. For example, one day I said to Pat, my mom’s faithful and wonderful professional caregiver, that I felt depressed. When she asked why, I told her that mom was so inaccessible these days - hardly speaking. And she said in response, “Well be grateful that she can still speak given that she had a stroke and grateful she is basically comfortable. At her age one can’t expect a lot in terms of interaction.” That was enough to immediately change my view and lift my spirits.

Of course the human connection is so healing.

Recently Andrea and I were interviewed by Toula Wootan on her Saturday morning radio show. Near the end of the show, one man called in and expressed how difficult it is taking care of his mom and watching her fade as she nears death. He asked how one can cope with this emotionally. The first words that came to mind were “letting go.” I spoke about this continual need to let go more and more while at the same time being so present with our loved one and valuing any glimmer of light that comes through. And then Toula mentioned how painful it is too. Yes, I agreed. I shared with the caller a moment in time when I was filled with the pain of memories, of what would never be again - I did not try to move away from the pain, but at some point I looked up to the sky which was vast and beautiful and a shift happened. It was an unspoken mysterious connection with something so much bigger than I; call it God, the mystery, the unknown, but it took me by surprise. The caller thanked me for the image of the sky and said it was helpful to remember he is not ultimately in control; God is in charge of it all.

It was a moving interchange making room for that vastness that contains life and death, creation and destruction, the mystery of it all that is way beyond what we can see or understand and which does give strength and resiliency.

Feel free to share your thoughts


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