" The incredible thing is that when we think of alleviating other people's suffering, our own suffering is reduced. This is the true secret to happiness.." Dalai Lama, The Book of Joy
"Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know....." Pema Chadron
It's been a while since my last post.
On this journey with Chloe I have travelled many roads and each one takes me down a new path of learning and awareness. One particular road I travelled with her and my son in the most recent months provided me with one of the biggest challenges yet. It has been a special time of learning and self-awareness. It was also a time for me to reflect on previous posts where I talked about being still and closing the door to time as well as my ally: Acceptance.
The world changing begun with a call received at work one cold, grey November afternoon when the Uncle of my children called me to say that their Dad had suffered a major heart attack and was literally fighting for his life. To say that my world changed in a second is an understatement. This man, my co-parenting ally, in spite of all the madness we had been through, was my team mate in the world around managing our children, especially Chloe. In fact we had been due to do an 'exchange' for a week as I was meant to travel abroad for work the following week. I remember all kinds of thoughts racing through my head; the first being very practical (always the way with me when faced with something very major and significant) - would I need to cancel work plans? How many meetings to change? Was the fare fully flexible and refundable? Would he live or die? How serious was it? How would I tell Che? What would I tell Chloe? Should I tell Chloe? Would she understand? Then something very strange happened. Slowly, as I settled my panic, my thoughts started to go in a different direction - What should I feel? How should I feel? How many times had I wished he would just disappear because of all the hurt I had felt? Was it about to happen?! But then something even stranger started to happen all in a moment when the magic question stopped me in my tracks: Did any of this matter?
Did it Matter? Confronted with death, all at once I was faced with the moment: that point when life meets death. It's a strange place where all the questions become answers if you listen hard enough. For me in this moment I had a chance to come to terms with something I thought I had come to terms with a long time ago. All the hurt, the struggle, the battles of the past came at me with full force at the same time as facing the prospect of the death of someone who has been in my life for over twenty years and with whom I share two beautiful children.
For me this moment became a process of true restoration - I knew I had been going in that direction for a while on this road but standing opposite their Dad (because that is what he truly was to me now in this moment) as he lay in his hospital bed, watching him fight for his life I realised none of 'that' past mattered. It did not diminish the impact on my life or invalidate how I had felt; it just was not relevant now. I looked at him with all the feelings of the past becoming still where they were; in the past. I felt myself letting go and putting those feelings where they were rather than carrying them around in my sub-conscious. Bit by bit I mentally put them down feeling lighter and lighter knowing I needed to be where I was, right there, with nothing else burdening me down so I could function for my children and allow myself to feel what it was I felt. The present moment was all we had and all that mattered; I was looking at him looking at me through his Oxygen mask, knowing at any point he may leave this plane for another one. Even the presence of his family - some of whom I had not seen or heard from in over 8 years and where I had harboured equal feelings of being hurt - did nothing to move me from that place, as I put those feelings down too. It was a strange experience almost out of body - like how I feel when Chloe is in the middle of a melt-down and I am completely present hearing nothing else in the physical world; it's like all those times had prepared me for this.
Compassion is an essential attribute and feeling in this Journey with Autism: a need to completely understand someone else and put yourself in their shoes. To take your 'self' and your ego out of the equation and away from how you are feeling when things become tough and challenging and become detached from that, completely in the space where they are; to understand their pain, frustration and sometimes suffering so that you can help them. By doing this you also help yourself to manage the situation and they see that and feel better too. I felt this now looking at their Dad. He was literally dying and I was living, with our children by my side: I wanted him to live because I could see him looking at them through his oxygen mask and I could see them looking at him wanting the same. What had happened and what I felt did not matter.
We had many moments over the course of the next few months in the hospital where we would talk, and come to terms with everything; our very own truth and reconciliation process! We remembered the good times more than the bad and it felt better. The most important thing for me was to make sure that our children saw their Dad in hospital (even if it meant late night trips after school or weekend trips by train) - and that they saw only caring and compassion from me to him so they could see that all their world was love and that they were the most important thing to both of us: which is all I ever really wanted from the beginning; this however was the true test of that.
Today he is still in a serious condition and there is a long way to go on that road, but the good thing is I meet him on that road now and again, as we have done most of this parenting journey; the only difference is I feel lighter now and not weighed down with the past as before: it happened and was there but is not here.
The Biblical Hebrew word for compassion is Rachamim and the belief is we have the potential of compassion from the beginning of life, by the very virtue of being nurtured and learning to nurture (rachamim comes from the root word for womb, rechem). The Dalai Lama in his book, The Book of Joy, notes however "compassion is actually a skill that can be cultivated. It is something that we learn to develop and then use to extend our circle of concern...it helps when one recognizes our shared humanity.."
I want to end this post with a reflection from one of my favourite writers and psychoanalysts, Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes:
"The reason that you are suffering?...We don't know the reason. What we do know is that you are involved in a dynamic process. The process of loss and return. You didn't do anything to deserve this. It just is what it is and it is leading you somewhere, it's leading you somewhere good I promise you...and you'll recognize it not through your mind but through your heart."