Sitting with someone who has become very dear to me, gently massaging their hands and feet, brushing their hair and softly singing lullabies whilst they lay in their hospital bed, breathing in oxygen from a nebulizer, witnessing their body slowly and gradually getting weaker and less able to breath for itself. The beauty and gentleness of life is somehow often found in situations that on so many levels can be perceived as hopeless and tragic. Being purely present with someone, in whatever stage of life they’re in, brings me to a beautiful place of peace. Simply focusing on the very thing that I’m doing and doing it with all of my love is the purest way of honouring another and what they’re living.
Through hospice volunteering, I’ve been visiting a person (I will use ‘they’ and ‘them’ so as to respect their privacy), for about five months who has a degenerative condition. They have recently gone into hospital and because their condition is getting worse, they’ve been told that they won’t be going back home. They are now in an ‘unknown place’ with no-one being able to reassure them and say ‘Oh that’s normal’, ‘It’s only temporary’, ‘You’ll feel better soon’ etc. They are mentally astute whilst witnessing their body getting weaker. They are dependant on oxygen and on the nurses and doctors to give them what they need, when they need it, which means finding a trust so as not to be swallowed up by anxiety. I can’t begin to imagine what this experience is like, I can only witness.
This person has become very dear to me and a part of me asks, “What comfort can I bring to them except to hold their hand, kiss their forehead, brush their hair and listen?” I certainly can’t tell them it’s going to be ok because on one level it’s not. However, I do know what I can do and that’s to leave myself at the door so that I can be totally present with them. I can bring peace by honouring that it’s their experience and their moment and in the pain and sadness, know there is something so much greater, where peace can be found. I can reassure them that it is normal and totally ok to be angry and pissed off, to feel the grief for what was and what’s not going to be and to feel deep sadness. I can be the detached presence that allows them to feel and express their emotions freely, without the sense of being a burden, without thinking there’s something wrong with them, or from having to keeping up a pretence of being ok.
Whilst I was with them, I was struck by how life becomes easier and more wonderful, when we share honestly how we feel. I know it’s often easier to share with someone who isn’t family and yet we miss out on the possibility of such love with those closest to us. It seems as though we’ve been brought up in a world which nurtures the belief that we can burden others simply by being honest with our feelings. What an incredible weight of responsibility to carry around from something that is a total myth. It means we miss out on true relationships with ourselves and with everyone else. It creates a deep sense of being alone and as though there’s an invisible wall that divides us, a wall that most people aren’t even aware of and can’t identify and yet it’s almost palpable. Deep inside people sense something isn’t right but don’t know what to do about it. We’re told that everything will be ok once we’ve achieved this or bought that or met this person or visited that place but it’s not true.
What is that all about? It’s totally crazy and obviously doesn’t work. Just one look at the news, at people’s faces and hearing people’s conversations shows clearly that it’s not working. But how far does one have to push themselves before they start opening up? I tell you right now that we don’t have to wait until we’re in a hospital, we don’t have to wait until we go through a crisis, we don’t. We can start right now and the sooner we start, the richer life is and the more peaceful and inclusive the end of this physical life becomes. The more we can be in a true relationship with ourselves and with our families and friends, the freer we all are. Heart cracking open, means greater loving. It doesn’t break, it expands, yes sometimes with the most incredible pain and it’s in that pain that we can find the deepest of peace.
The greatest gift we can give to everyone is simply to be honest. Honest from our hearts not our minds. Yes it can be scary but I think it’s vital now that we ask ourselves what really matters. Do we allow ourselves to share with our family and friends or do we hide behind the false myth that it could be somehow detrimental to them? There are so many fears that we can let ourselves be controlled by but isn’t the peace that is found in close relationship with self, family and friends worth facing it all and giving it the chance to disintegrate?
The other day, I shared something with my brother that I’ve kept hidden, even from myself for many years. Deep fears of being judged and abandoned, or rather the possible consequences that I had imagined, had prevented me from telling him before. However the desire for deep peace, a closer relationship and freedom from this, pushed me forward and I somehow knew it would be ok. I know that the only person who can abandon me is myself and it was time to give both of us the opportunity to be free from my fear. As I shared my story with him, a sense of relief came over both of us. He didn’t judge or abandoned, he simply listened and then shared his stories with me. As the invisible wall disintegrated, so did the fear that had kept us apart. The fears of burdening the other, of somehow hurting the other, of feeling that they might not be able to take it, that they might judge and then abandon and all of those fears felt so real and yet deep inside the yearning for peace and to live honestly and openly, overpowered everything. I knew that whatever happened, it would be alright and everything really is exactly as it’s meant to be because we’ve created it to be that way. Now my brother and I are now getting to know each other freely as the people who we truly are. Freedom for all of us.