Mommy is on the floor. She won’t wake up. Daddy is scared and talking loudly and my sister is scared, so I am scared. Daddy is shaking mommy and yelling. I am crying because daddy is scaring me and I want someone to hold me. But mommy can’t because she won’t wake up. And daddy just ran out the door. My sister is crying in her bedroom. I’m alone with mommy. Is she dead?
I was three My sister was five. This is my earliest memory of my mother’s lifelong pain. The memory is fading, yet still potent visually and emotionally. It has colored my relationships with women since then, whenever they spoke of their pain in ways that seemed helpless, hopeless.
For six decades I’ve fled and been recaptured by my mother’s seemingly intractable suffering. For forty of those years, I’ve been married to Saint Clare, my wife. Her laughter has helped me understand the pain in that first trauma—and all those that followed my mother—can disappear. Those thoughts and images of mom’s howling pain and fear can simply POOF! be gone when I open to the unreserved joy in Clare’s life-loving laughter.
I am both sufferer and healer.
That first event was followed by others. Mom’s suffering finally rode her down to her last breath in the hallway of a retirement center. Until then, she had experienced daily torment, which inevitably shaped the lives of my sisters, brother and me. As witness/participants, we have each, in our own way, worked out the legacy of her pain.
Throughout my life, I have been confused by a sense of failure for not saving my mother from her past. Isn’t that a crazy idea? How can a child save a parent from something that happened before the child was born?
Mom’s confusion and pain have helped me become the husband and father I am today. I now look at her life as more than just suffering, or just my lesson.
She raised and left four children who all stand strongly for compassion and helping the less fortunate. I’m proud of all of us. I’m proud of her. She fought and taught us to fight injustice and unnecessary pain. She led us to valuing ourselves as resources.
What can I change?
Separating the inevitable pain from optional is life’s work for everyone. Distinguishing between what we can change and what we can’t means we must experience some degree of both. As we do, we gradually realize the power of healing which is always here with us.
In any moment, any one of us may face suffering in ourselves or others, which is confusing. We may continue to suffer. One of the hardest life lessons is right here. You may, through no fault of your own, experience suffering in yourself or someone else, and the best you will be able to bring is simply your acceptance of the situation and a willingness to be with them.
The ‘witness’ role to others’ suffering is necessary, for life includes suffering. There is no happiness without the possibility of misery.
If you look around your life when you suffer, you may learn that you are already, in a land where Saint Clare lives, surrounded by the freedom to love the present moment for what it is offering.
Healing is a simple return to what is from what was. Simple does not mean easy. It’s a simple thing to step out of an airplane at five thousand feet with a parachute, but it means overcoming fear which is not easy.
Letting go of my mother’s pain has meant recognizing fear in her that lived by extension in me. As I accepted that she didn’t release her own fear, I came to understand there is in the present moment a choice to be joyful.
Fear grows from something we have already experienced and are expecting to happen again. This understanding points to this moment where this body is, where there is no actual threat. The only threat is the memory, the return to the past. Be aware of leaving this beautiful moment and all the wonder it holds. Is it worth it to leave NOW for pain kept alive only by my awareness?
There is only this moment where I can hear Clare’s laughter in the next room, or see the sky above, or this simple miracle of life’s breath moving in and out of this body.
Courage is choosing gratitude in difficult times.
Gratefully I now choose to release the pain my mother lived. Her experience has taught me I am not a failure because she suffered so deeply. I now hold up to her my joy of being alive. I include her in it, and share the release from the isolation that has been here all along.
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