August 18, 2010

The limit of my compassion.

“My body was telling me not to leave. I didn’t listen…”

As I sat in meditation this morning a memory passed like a freight train through my mind: the memory of what was by far the longest and hardest day of my life.

I’ve learnt to know the difference between low-key, ‘random’ thoughts, and deeply subconscious ‘stuff’ that comes up in meditation for good reason; so I paid attention.

In May 2008, a couple of weeks after Petra and I got married here in Slovenia, I had a phone call from my Mother. She told me if I wanted to see my (very sick) Father again, I’d better come soon. I  came off the phone and immediately booked a flight for the following day. I would fly back to England on the Friday, stay the weekend, and come home to Slovenia on Monday morning. (Petra was leaving on the Tuesday morning to go to India for a month to study Ayurvedic massage, and I wanted to see her off).

I flew home with the realization that this was probably the last time I’d see my Father – a realization that filled my whole physical and emotional being with a deep sadness. He’d been ill for a long time, and we’d all known this moment would be coming, but even so… there is no way to prepare for loss. It happens, and then you deal with it.

When I saw him that day, the horror left me feeling numb. He was very, very ill. As I look back now, I realize that if I’d taken time to think about it, I would have known that he had only days left. Subconsciously, I did know; but consciously, I avoided thinking at all. It was too painful.

I spent some time with him, but he was so weak that no communication was possible. He had long since lost the use of his voice, and now he could barely move. His neck muscles were too weak to support his head, so eye contact was difficult. I spent most of the time with my Mother, talking with her and trying as best I could to support her.

The weekend passed, and suddenly it was Monday morning. I learnt that morning what it means to have a ‘heavy heart’. However, when I said goodbye to my Father for the last time, there were no tears and no drama. I gave him a hug, stroked his head, and whispered, “I love you Pops”. He summoned up the strength to lift his head and give me a look of love that I’ll never forget.

Then I went downstairs and left for the airport. My bags weighed nothing compared to the physical feeling of heaviness. My body was telling me not to leave. I didn’t listen.

At the airport I was the first person in the departure lounge. I was set on getting home to Slovenia and putting behind me the pain of seeing my Father in that condition. All I could think of was finding some temporary solace in my wife’s arms.

Slowly, the lounge filled. The plane was outside on the tarmac, and through the window I could see the luggage being stowed on the plane.

Then, I had a sudden and peculiar urge: I wanted to buy a newspaper. (The reason this was peculiar was that I rarely used to read the papers).

The plane wasn’t boarding yet; I had plenty of time. Besides, they always announce the boarding, right?

I walked down the hallway to the shop, and bought a paper and a bottle of water. It must have taken me 3 – 5 minutes, but when I returned, the lounge was empty! The strangest feeling came over me – the heaviness in my body was now accompanied by a feeling of complete emotional emptiness, as if every cell in my body was hollow – as I realized what was about to happen.

I ran the few steps to the flight departure gate, where a woman in uniform was counting ticket stubs. She didn’t even look up as she told me that I had missed my flight.

The world went into slow motion. I could see my plane still sitting outside – two lines of people slowly climbing the stairways into the front and back – the ground crew scurrying around like ants, still finishing their flight preparations.

I pleaded with the woman in front of me.

Would she let me run down and join the back of the line…

would she radio the plane and ask the cabin crew if I could go down…

my wife was going away, my father was dying, please, I needed to get on that plane…

If she would just look at me, maybe I could communicate how important this was. As I raised my voice, she did look up: to inform me that if I continued to behave in a threatening manner she would call the police. She was a stony-faced, beady-eyed woman and nothing I could say or do would change that. I wasn’t getting on that plane.

As I walked away, my world crumbled. I couldn’t stay in England; I couldn’t bear to see my Father like that again. I needed to be with my wife; to be home.

In the end I had to wait 2 hours in the departure lounge for a ground crew to come and ‘escort’ me disdainfully back to the check-in desks. I booked another flight from another airport on the other side of London, and then traveled two hours by train to get there. That flight was delayed; I finally arrived back in Slovenia at 2am. Petra’s parents were there to meet me, and drove me back to our home, where we arrived at 4am. On getting there, I saw that my car had a flat tire, so I then had to drive my parents-in-law home, and return with their car in order to be able to drive Petra to the airport 30 minutes later (she had an early morning flight). I successfully saw her off to India at the airport!

I then drove home, having been traveling non-stop for about 36 hours, having had no sleep and only 30 brief minutes with my wife at 5 o’clock in the morning.

When I arrived back home from Ljubljana airport (again), I sat down and felt more alone than I had ever felt in my life: heavy and empty and utterly alone.

I made a cup of tea, and the phone rang; my brother. Dad had been rushed to hospital that morning, where he had just died…

(To read the rest, please visit Grounded Spirituality)

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jennifer Apr 7, 2011 7:59am

The universe just sent me a message through your story.

Jacqueline Apr 7, 2011 7:52am

I just lost my father 3 weeks ago. But there was no long illness or warning the death was coming soon. The last time I saw my father was at Thanksgiving dinner with my family. We were all planning to be together in a couple of weeks for my parents 50th Anniversary. But Dad went to sleep one night a few weeks ago and never woke up. He was 92 and in fairly good health. I talked to him the day before he died.. there was no warning. He did not know we did not know. I stayed with my Mom for 2 weeks after to help her with how her world has changed. They were best friends for 56 years. Sometimes I think how lucky I am that he went so peacefully… but still I am in the most pain of my life so far. I am trying to get back to normal. I have my children and husband to care for. I have my work to get back to. Somehow my sister and I both had vacation when Dad died so we had lots of time to deal with all the things that need to be taken care of. Im not sure why Im writing all this except to say…The only thing that matters is that your Dad knew how much you loved him. I believe he did know.

Kathy Apr 7, 2011 7:11am

Wow, what a beautiful article! Thank you, Ben, for sharing such a poignant and personal story. I am in the process of reconciling with my own father, and you have inspired me to take the next, difficult step before the sun sets on this day.
Full of gratitude…..

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Ben Ralston

Ben Ralston has been practising personal development—necessity being the Mother of invention—since he was about six years old. He’s been teaching and sharing what he’s learnt along the way for a couple of decades. His main thing is Heart of Tribe retreats—whose very purpose is to help you fall back in love with life, no less. Leading these retreats alongside his woman Kara-Leah Grant—also an elephant journal writer (that’s how they met!)—they combine a deep well of lineage-based yoga teaching experience, with expertise in healing trauma and various other methods of personal development. Ben also works with clients one-on-one via Skype, writes, makes videos from time to time, and is passionate about parenting.
He lives in an intentional, tribal community in the hills of Croatia, where you might find him gardening barefoot and talking to the rocks. Connect with Ben on Facebook or YouTube or check out his website for more info.