Hello and welcome to this glorious Saturday, February 13, 2021. Today is a rare and precious day that will never come again.
As many of you know, a couple weeks ago I traveled to Colorado to see my mother for potentially the last time. Having gone through this experience, never have I been more intentional with all my goodbyes. We just never know if we will ever see the person who stands before us, again.
As I do with most of these weekly mindfulness support essays, I want to share part of what I experienced on this pilgrimage to my home state.
Due to COVID restrictions, I was allowed to spend only a limited time with mom. I essentially drove for 36 hours to spend 3 hours with her. I’m grateful for every moment.
My first visit was on Saturday. A few other family members were there, and mom was quite lucid, and cheerful. Though mom is on hospice and is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, unlike some of our previous visits, she recalled our names and at times even seemed to remember our relation to her. Because I traveled so far, the memory care facility was kind enough to allow me to accompany mom to her room and extend my visit in private for an additional hour beyond the 30 minutes allotted to the rest of the family. This time alone was precious. I was present! Though I felt an underlying deep sadness, I walked out of the facility with a bounce in my step, steeped with joy, gratitude, and acceptance in my heart. I recall questioning this uplifting feeling, curious if it was appropriate for the situation. I thought I would have been gloomier. Despite this thought, if this were my last visit, if I never got to see her again, I was content with this being my final goodbye. In fact, I was so confident in my feelings, I recall telling my teacher and partner that my visit on Sunday will be a bonus, regardless of what happens.
I could not have been more wrong.
When I visited mom on Sunday, I walked in with a spring in my step but 90 minutes later, I left with my head down, trudging. Once again, mom was lucid. I was grateful for this. There were times when she looked at me, and though she could not articulate it, I knew in my heart that she recognized me as her son. The were some tender times of laughter. An hour into the visit, I felt a desperation, a longing. I knew this was it and I wanted to make these moments last. I had no strength or confidence to make this “I love you,” the last. It was at this point that she said, “I think it’s time for you to leave.” I’d never felt so grateful, and heartbroken. She gave me permission to leave. This permission soon had me questioning, “where did this come from, what did she mean?”
I had 18 hours alone in a car to sit with these thoughts and emotions.
Where had my feelings of resolve gone that I had only a couple hours earlier? I chatted with my partner before leaving Colorado. At the time, we both agreed that it would have better to have the emotional experiences of these two days reversed. It would have been nice to feel uplifted and confident for the long drive home. I’m not so sure anymore.
Since I started practicing Mindfulness, I’ve pretty much stopped listening to music, podcasts, or books on tape while driving. Though it took awhile to get used to it, I’m enjoying the experience of being present behind the wheel and noticing all there is to notice while driving. So much to see. So much to feel. On this particular trip home, I certainly had a lot to feel. While this is somewhat new for me, instead of numbing it, I wanted to feel it. I just didn’t realize it would be so powerful. For the two-day trip home, I experienced insecurity, uncertainty, shame, grief, remorse, heartache, angst, sadness, deep sadness. So deep sometimes that I needed to pull over and go for a walk.
Today, a couple weeks out from my visit with mom, I’m grateful that things turned out exactly as they did. I need to feel that deep sense of loss. I need to cry. I need to grieve. I also need to feel gratitude, acceptance, contentment, and joy. While it’s normal to want to feel positive emotions, negative emotions are also needed to live wholly. But when we deny, numb, and try to escape the negative emotions, we miss lessons that they have to teach us. And if we honestly reflect on our life, we see that our personal growth comes from times of difficulty and challenge. If we try to seek joy during times when we need to experience sadness, we prolong our suffering and deny ourselves the gifts of a live lived fully.
The Yin and Yang represent a balance between two opposing forces. They are both needed to create wholeness. My feelings of deep sadness and profound gratitude are both needed to experience this situation with my mother, wholly. While this situation with my mother is neither good nor bad, it is both beautiful and tragic. I believe this to be true for every aspect of our lives. Though each of our experiences may not reach emotional extremes, they are nonetheless on the same continuum. If we try to strive for one and avoid the other, we lose balance. While I know it can be difficult to face strong negative emotions and that each of us need to do so at our own pace, when we suppress the negative and seek only the positive emotions, we create imbalance, and this is a significant source of suffering; moreso than if we just allowed ourselves to experience the full range of emotions particular to each situation.
You are Loved by me, Unconditionally!
Contribute to the Turning Leaf Foundation
If you would like to help bring Mindfulness to the less fortunate and to help pay for current services, your generosity is deeply appreciated.