Monday, May 30, 2005

growing corn *to those caring for an ill loved one*

My old Native American friend used to say a religion that did not grow
corn was useless. By this he meant a way that did not feed you when you
were hungry was not worth practicing.

There are many ways which will nourish the spirit when times are good,
but if the way does not help when times are difficult then it is not
worth playing with when times are good.

It is my contention that the "there is no you" philosophical woo woo
zen ...really does no good when your husband or wife is ill, perhaps not
to get better. I do not believe handing you a sutra book is enough.

I do think that focusing on this moment with your loved one does "grow
corn". Understanding the nature of impermanence does grow corn. Having a
real life understanding of the nature of pain, and of suffering does
grown corn.

I know that when my father-in-law was suffering, eventually fatally,
from congestive heart failure, my wife found the way did grow corn. She
was able to look at what was happening with an eye of patience with
suffering. She was able to be aware that this was the moment that she
had to fix all the problems with her relationship with her father. She
even tried to get her sister to finish all the business that was left
before he was gone. Her sister chose to believe that there was plenty of
time. I remember the day Anjin backed her father into a corner and told
him she wanted him to tell her he loved her. He gave the typical
father's response "You have to know I love you". She said "I know but I
still need to hear you say it." He paused for a moment then said the
short sentence that put so many doubts to rest and comforts her to this was something she needed to hear.

Death and illness are a part of life. There are things that need to be
taken care of, and responsibilities that need to be discharged. What
sounded so easy in the beginning...the in sickness and in health
part.... is not so easy when its reality rears its ugly head. If you can
stay in the moment even though this moment appears to be heart breaking,
I can say with confidence that what it will be is heart healing. If you
take care of this moment, with compassion and dignity both for yourself
and for your loved one, it will be a source of great comfort in the
years to come.

No one wants to see a loved one suffer. No one wants to be handed a
great challenge. We all want an easy practice with nothing but warm
walks on the beach. The reality of a real relationship is that it is not
all walks on the beach. I, for one, would not wish to sacrifice a real
relationship for the dream of what could not possibly be.

Please, do not sacrifice one minute of this, Even though this is not
what you would have wished for. When it is over, you will be glad you
were there through as much of it as you could take.

Remember not to beat yourself up for not being the perfect caregiver,
you are what you what you are in this place and moment...even
if what you are is clumsy and bungling. Remember your spouse loves you
for what you are. Rest when you need to rest. Take a break when you need
a break. (eat when you are hungry sleep when you are tired is the old
zen axiom).

There are no real lessons learned when nothing difficult is happening.
This is a time of great challenge and growth, both for you and your
loved ones. No real compassion is developed until you are challenged to
be compassionate. No real strength is developed until our strength is
challenged. No real courage is required until there is something to

When my mother passed after decades of senile dementia, some of us were
glad her suffering was over. One of my brothers wanted his mother alive
even though she could not feed herself or would not want to live with no
ability to string two thoughts together. 5 of the six of us came back
for the funeral did not. He was one of us who was glad her
suffering was finally over yet he could not face the idea of a funeral
for his mother. ....funny ... he was always like this...he did not come
home for our father's funeral either. He did not come to see her in the
home, he could not see her like that. He is not good with death, or
illness....even though as a former Marine Captain who served in a couple
of wars he is probably more familiar with them than most of the rest of
us. I am sure he has attended more funerals and dealt with more death
than any of us. When it was this personal and was too
much. We understood. It is who he is. He should have been nothing else
on that day. We love him for who he is, not for what we would like him
to be.

Be who you are in this and all moments and the regrets and the suffering
will be as small as they can be, both for yourself and for your loved
one. If you can do this, the way will grow corn.

Be Well