Friday, August 30, 2013

Another Lesson of Compassion

“What a terrible thing it is to botch a farewell. …It's important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse. That bungled goodbye hurts me to this day. I wish so much that I'd had one last look at him in the lifeboat, that I'd provoked him a little, so that I was on his mind. I wish I had said to him then - yes, I know, to a tiger, but still - I wish I had said, "Richard Parker, it's over. We have survived. Can you believe it? I owe you more gratitude than I can express; I couldn't have done it without you. I would like to say it formally: Richard Parker, thank you. Thank you for saving my life. And now go where you must. You have known the confined freedom of a zoo most of your life; now you will know the free confinement of a jungle. I wish you all the best with it. Watch out for Man. He is not your friend. But I hope you will remember me as a friend. I will never forget you that is certain. You will always be with me, in my heart. What is that hiss? Ah, our boat has touched sand. So farewell, Richard Parker, farewell. God be with you.”


You may recall from my last posting how my grandmother helped me to learn to be more compassionate with myself and with my husband.  Life has seemingly kept me very busy, but I feel I must tell you one more lesson my grandmother had to teach me.

It is over 40 years since she passed on and yet I still have a strong connection to her – a bond of love forged those many years ago.

Shortly after the comfort and healing I wrote of last time, something shifted - I felt a sense of sadness. I was not grieving that she was gone; I had done that many years ago and was at peace with her passing.   It was something else.  Did I, in the words of Yann Martel, “conclude things properly”?  She had meant so much to me.  And yet, when my parents and siblings moved to BC, I was the only family she had for her last 6 years.  I began to wish I’d spent more time with her.  It was an incredibly painful realization and it seemed too late to do anything about it!

Part of it was mourning for times I missed being with her, but it was more.  Underneath the sadness was a sense of deep regret, a sense of failure.  Part of me refused to accept my behaviour – it judged me and found me wanting.

So what to do?  I knew that I needed to let myself feel these feelings if I wanted to deal with this.  So when sadness came to me, I let myself feel that sadness and to be there with it – not to hold on to it or push it away, and not to follow the whirlpool of regret into blaming myself.  Just to be there with my grandmother and my sadness. 

And, as I did so, the sadness began to soften and, once again, I sensed her love.  She was comforting me, not blaming me.  And I began to remember the many wonderful times we had during our last few years together, the times we brought her over to our place, the times I visited her, and the times I rushed to the emergency room to support her.  Good memories, filled with love.

And then I began to see things through a different lens.  Many things had made it difficult for me to be with her as I wished.  I had been a young mother with 3 small children and no car.  My husband had been attending night and summer school plus teaching adult education classes to help get our young family on a stable financial footing.  And her nursing home was not the kind of place where you could take young children.  When and how could I have done more?  Even now, I just don’t know.

But what I did come to know was that my grandmother knew I loved her.  She did not have to forgive me.  She did not blame me to begin with.  Realizing this helped me to see my deep sense of sadness and regret in a different light.  While seeming noble, I knew it was really something else.  Something I know well, but seem to ignore!

Ah, yes!  You may have guessed.  My old familiar perfectionist part was holding me responsible all these many years later.  It’s amazing really how she finds these chinks in my armour.  Guess I’ll have to get to know her better.  We need a better working relationship!