Compassion is relational. And perhaps the most complicated of these relations at times are within our family.
Families are the very foundation of this human experience, and so many threads of the tapestry of our life may well be family relations. Bearing the complexity of this in mind, I humbly offer my story of the caring relation-shipping that I had with the four elders in my life: my parents and my husband’s parents.
I share these with the understanding that they are simply my stories — I wish for you to hold them in the understanding and compassion that your stories may relate and they may not.
I have lived long enough to care for both my parents and my husband’s parents as they aged and as they died. There seems to be a lot written about how MSC can help with parenting, but what about the other end — the caring of our parents?
I am no expert in the area of aged care or palliative care, but I have a few stories to share regarding the role MSC and the lack of it played during these times.
All four of our parents died with complications from chronic lung disease. I trust that everyone reading this has had a moment of struggling to get a breath for whatever reason. Any form of breathing struggle activates acute fear; chronic breathing issues can awaken old fears and angers and really bring them to the fore. I witnessed that it can also bring rapid movements towards grace and surrender.
We saw all of this unfold with our parents. Sadly my dad, Jack, died still as angry and scared as a breathless person could be. I did not have my MSC practice then. What I had was a lot of resistance, an inability to truly be with and hear his struggle. What I have learned with MSC is the freedom of forgiveness and the blessing of trusting my love to be able to restore its true connection with my dad even though he died 22 years ago. I speak with and hold him in love as often as I can.
MSC has helped to transform the pain of guilt through forgiveness into a deeper loving connection with my dad.
My father-in-law, Jimmy, seemed easier to care for, as unlike my own dad he did not push any old familiar buttons in me. This was before MSC, but even still, I learned a great deal about the grace of patience. There was so much waiting. I would get embarrassed over so many of his downright rude comments to nursing staff and then humbled by their incredible capacity for loving acceptance of him. There were so many appointments and phone calls in the middle of the night. I learned the hard way that offering more than I could realistically do led to resentment and a lack of true caring. Sometimes I think we find the balance of our own needs and limits via these periods of being out of balance. It all gave me wonderful fertile grounds for MSC to flourish.
My mother-in-law, Laurel, bless her, was a soul sister to James Baraz’s mother, (if you have seen the video ‘My Son Ruined My Life’). She went totally blind, and she struggled with her breathing. Losing her sight opened her to meet me with a little more curiosity. I had so many judgements about her habits of worry and prejudices. Prior to MSC I would get fused in a sense of feeling so right about her behaviour being so wrong. MSC brought such insight into her simply doing the best she could and like the rest of us messy humans, a product of a lot of habits and conditions. Common humanity and a good sense of humour were the MSC medicine that helped me learn to love her more unconditionally. More than ever before my ability to find balance in my caring was called for with Laurel, as so much else in my life was in upheaval during her last year of life.
My mum, Alice, was living with me when I truly awakened to MSC (neck down). We learned together, and she taught me so much. She had dementia on top of her chronic lung disease. She had such grace and so, so much forgiveness as I stumbled with truly learning how to simply be with her.
I say ‘simply’, but truly to let go enough to be with an ageing person is profound and one I continually stumbled with.
The most precious thing was she had humour. Her loving humour effortlessly acted to drop all my resistance, allowing me to meet her in her new and continually changing world. The impact MSC had on the way I was able to communicate with my siblings — from a place of peace and non-violence — truly helped to navigate such a painful time for all of us.
Within these last two relationships, MSC allowed me to truly know what was important, to own my capacity and limits, and to honour them.
As a daughter, guilt became a constant companion, I often had to speak to it and understand that it may never leave, but I could deepen my understanding of the reason for it. I loved these four people so deeply, and guilt always wanted to remind me of it.
So rather than guilt seen as an enemy, I allowed it to be the voice I spoke to, saying ‘I care deeply and have cared deeply; I am doing my best, and my parents understand this. They wish me to be there but they also wish me to be well. Thank you for checking in, guilt’.
The last chapter of my mum’s life was in a nursing home. There was not a day where I did not get in my car with guilt sitting next to me. As I mentioned I used the opportunity to check in and confirm my love. Sometimes it didn’t work, so I would call my husband or sister, they would lovingly speak to that part of me that felt guilt.
Thanks to MSC, I know the voice of guilt to simply be a reminder that I am showing up and that yes, I do love. Guilt as that voice reminding me of how precious connection is.
Thanks for reading, and if you are in the time of your life where you are caring for an elderly parent/s, my wish for you is to include yourself in your caring. An integral part of MSC is forgiveness, and being human means we have needs and limits, that we are all doing our best despite all our broken bits. Know that the caring goes on long after they die and that loving relation-shipping is eternal. I have found so much solace and healing in this.