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As I sat in the hospital, wondering whether my father would be released, whether things were better or worse, I recalled all the times I had sat in hospital, because of either a medical issue with him or with my mother.
As I sat there, I knew I wasn’t alone. Many people in their midlife experience ageing parents with health issues. Many sit in hospital rooms and corridors, wondering if the intervention was doing good or whether their parent may never leave.
Even as I sat there, knowing I wasn’t alone, it still felt like I was alone.
In September 2022, my father was hospitalised. During the initial week, he was delirious due to septicaemia. After about a week of a daily course of antibiotics, he got better.
Everything was looking really bright; the doctors began to talk about discharging him. After two weeks, he was placed in another ward for physiotherapy so that he would have some mobility when he came home.
Then things took a turn for the worse. My father’s condition deteriorated. Within a week of being transferred to his new ward, my father passed away.
This was one of the hardest times of my life. The lead-up to my father’s death was staggering in its stress factor: the countless pharmacies visited to get the medication required, juggling daily (sometimes twice a day) hospital visits with work, the niggling anxiety about what was going to happen next, and the annoying way of how life just continues, notwithstanding the whole situation.
When my father passed away, as a family we experienced bereavement, and we also had to support my mother’s grief, through her eyes of dementia.
In addition, we went through the bureaucracy of death—again, something that all families experience when they go through bereavement. But it was a tough time.
I had to let go of control: control of how I’d like my day to be, control of how healthy I’d like my parents to be, control of how I wanted life to be.
I found there was no point planning for anything during those few months. Prior to my father’s death, plans never happened because some medical issue arose. After his death, some bureaucratic matter arose. I couldn’t go through with most plans, sometimes because I was just plain old tired.
Serendipitously, I had read a lot of Pema Chödrön prior to my father’s hospitalisation. Without her wisdom, I think I would have experienced far greater hardship.
Here are a few Pema Chödrön quotes I’d like to share:
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.”
“The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.”
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”
“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”
“When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes like armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.”
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
“When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment.”
Being open to change.
What I learnt during this period, perhaps ingrained into me, was to learn how to surrender control. Especially when I was younger, I had an innate sense of wanting control and order to my day—ironically inherited from my father—but the only thing which is constant in life is change.
Embrace change, Pema Chödrön advises, and that is something I am learning to do.