A few days ago my best friend called to tell me that her aunt had just died. I knew that her aunt was failing and slowly fading away. And I knew that my friend had accepted the fact that her aunt was slowly leaving. I find myself sitting and crying and I haven’t known why.
When I got off the phone, my only thoughts were for my friend. And I felt that if I could take the burden of having to deal with the funeral home and her aunt’s church community and the lawyer and all of that from her I would. And I know that I cannot take that from her. I can only be available to help as she asks.
I remember a summer about 20 or so years ago. My friend and I had just returned to her apartment after a week’s holiday when she got a call from one of her mother’s friends. Thankfully both my friend and her mother lived in the same apartment building because my friend had to immediately deal with emergency personnel as her mother had had a stroke. So, my friend left and I stayed to look after her place. And I called my mother and asked what I should do. Her advice was to go shopping for stuff that would be easy to make or heat up and to just be there to help.
I’ve been wondering just how much does one person have to endure? When her mother became ill, my friend had to deal with hospitals and unhappy nursing staff. She had to fight for answers. Then she had to arrange for her mother to be placed in a chronic care facility. And each night, she would leave work and go to see her mother and then she would go home. All this each day for five months. And she did it without any thought of doing anything differently.
About two years later, my friend was told that she had melanoma. I remember getting the phone call and her words, “I keep wondering what I’ve done wrong.” And I knew what she meant and I had no words for her. All I could do was be there with her when she went to the hospital to have the melanoma removed. And she did what she had to do while I wanted to save her from worry and pain and wondering what would happen next. And I knew I couldn’t do anything but be there and help as she asked.
About two years ago, my friend’s aunt fell and fractured her hip. At the same time, my friend’s partner had a stroke. So she spent each day travelling from one part of Toronto to another to see to her aunt and then to see to her partner. And she had to deal with hospital staff and fractious patients and getting things dealt with and she did it. And I worried that, in all of her time spent dealing with what had to be done for others, she would burn herself out. She was looking after everyone else. Who was looking out for her? I know that my friend is a strong person and I still worried about her. And I knew that I couldn’t do anything unless I was asked.
I thought when I started writing this that it was about dealing with the passing of a generation – the end of an era. In my family, the generation before me have all died – my mother and father and my aunts and uncles and the parents of both of my sisters’ husbands. My best friend’s aunt was the last of that generation. Just over 100 years old.
But that’s not it. I find myself sitting here feeling lost. I want so much to help my friend. I want to actually do something and yet, except for being there to drive her where she needs to be and to help as she asks, there is nothing I can do. And I’m feeling helpless.
I’ve wondered if I’m genetically programmed to want to help or if I learned to be helpful as I was growing up? I believe that we are intended to live abundantly and support a natural well being for ourSelves, which means, by extension, with and for others. I also know that, in my family, there was an overt and also covert expectation that I would help and do for others and put my own wishes and desires on hold in order to be helpful. As a kid, I learned that there were consequences for refusing to help as expected. There would be big trouble and severe repercussions if I didn’t behave as was expected of me. And as I grew up, I expanded that out to the collective and the cultural conditioning of my world. I believed that I would be considered an inconsiderate and selfish ‘meanie’ if I refused to help others at the expense of mySelf. Now that I am an awakened adult, I know that there really is no big trouble if I refuse to be the expected helpmate. I understand that this is all only what I get encumbered with – old ways of thinking. So, to answer my own question, I don’t believe that being helpful as I have understood it to mean is genetic. It’s a habit that I have learned very well. And it’s a habit which can still trip me up.
I read something recently which seems timely at this moment. “The death card can mean many things. A transition of some kind. The death of an idea or a way of life, for instance. A turning point.”
For my friend, her aunt’s passing is the end of an era. It is also a release from the day to day stressors of making sure that her aunt was well cared for. And it is a turning point for her. New decisions and moving forward in her life differently. And it will be what she chooses it to be.
I’ve been sitting here feeling selfish because every thought I have is ultimately about me and what I need. Yet, I know that everything is, ultimately, about me. I know that, for me, this death is also a transition point. I am so aware that I truly don’t want to help anymore in the old expected ways – to drop everything in my life so that I can physically be present to ‘do’ for someone else. I just want to support by being present… and do nothing more beyond being present UNLESS I choose to do something different. So, I think that my tears are simply my final admission to mySelf that my identity is no longer tied to being the ultimate helpmate and force for ‘good’… and that THAT is no longer my role. That mental pathway has finally lost its force of attraction.
I look outside of mySelf and my perception of reality has changed: my friend’s aunt died freeing herSelf from her earthly body, and ultimately inviting and allowing my friend to free herSelf of being the one to do for others. All I have done it to give up the expectation I have learned that I am supposed to be the ‘uber’ helpmate.
And so, in considering what I have learned about mySelf through my friend’s aunt’s passing, I am so aware that I am still and always changing – letting go of the ingrained habit of having to be the saviour of everyone, being comfortable with knowing that my choices are mine to own, feeling that things and people that have been in my life may be falling away. AND being comfortable with that.
THAT really is how it all unfolds… if we are willing to just let it.