I share with you a story that for many, has become familiar. Whether you are receiving this news for yourself or for a loved one, something changes inside of you. Once you hear these words, there is no turning back. The way you view your world, changes. The way you see yourself, changes. Nothing appears the same again. We step through a door into the unknown; the unknown that tells a different story of the one you had about your mortality ; the unknown that shows you your body in its strength and its vulnerability; the unknown that takes you into your shadow self you thought you would never have to face again. We are never prepared for this moment with the gifts and challenges it brings to us.
In the beginning of 2009 my Mom was diagnosed with cancer. I remember hearing those words. The words seemed to fall into a voiceless pit and then ricochet back with a force that sucked me into a soundless void. A void, where, time, space and sound all dissolve into a place of emptiness. I saw my Mom as a strong, independent woman who had achieved so much in her life as a single mother, business woman and friend. I could not imagine her life being shortened. I could not imagine what she would go through in the months/years to come. The mature adult will remind us that “old age is not for sissies”. Now she was facing not only the natural decline of her physical body, but also that of a disease which would hasten that degeneration process. How does one comprehend the implications of such news? We never see ourselves other than immortal. There is so much experience in this life, why would it be cut short?
As a Miss Fixit personality type, it was my immediate response to jump in and do whatever I could to make it all better. I packed up my life in KZN and went to look after my Mom for the 6 months of her chemotherapy. It was a humbling journey. I learnt more about myself than I thought possible. I learnt more about a woman I called Mom, than I ever expected. There were highs and lows, love and dislike, acceptance and non-acceptance and finally respect. There were times when we honestly did not like one another. To travel a road where both of your lives become an open book, is not an easy place to sit in. Our vulnerabilities, our past pains of expectations and your should haves, and shouldn’t have, often blocked our rationality and communications. At the end of the six months I left her on unhappy terms. We had cracked our shells enough to let the light shine into the darkness. We had opened wounds that needed to be healed. The following years brought us together with a mutual love and respect.
In the following years, I drove some solid tracks up and down to her home town. On one of my trips I called her up on the phone and told her that I was going to write a book called, Green Juice and Love and dedicate it to her. She thrived on juices, smoothies and nature’s tonics. After her first experience with the mainstream choice of treating cancer, she opted for quality of life and to experience her personal process of managing her disease. There were many times I would hear a tiny, feeble voice on the other end of the phone saying, “Debs, I need some help.” I would pack up my car with the juicer, blender, as many veggies from my garden as I could fit into a small car and journey up to her. My heart would fall into my tummy as my eyes fell onto this tiny, frail little body. How was I going to make it all right again? I would straighten up my shoulders, zip up the tears and say, “Come on Mom, we can do this, together.” I would proceed to make up all my concoctions and feed her like a small child, willing her body to respond. Rest, love and care and topped up with all the best of nature’s choices, she would soon be back to her upbeat self. I would leave her marveling at the strength of the body and the spirit and the will to live every day in its fullness.
There are many people that are recognizing the need to change their lifestyles. For most, it comes to them when faced with an illness. The most challenging aspect is what do those changes look like and how much are they prepared to change? This may be very frustrating for the people supporting them. As individuals we have our limits, our habits and our crutches. These aspects become highlighted as they are often what support the disease. When we are feeling vulnerable, we turn to our habits to hold us. It is difficult for people to change a lifestyle in normal conditions, let alone when required to. What you determine as making a significant change will be different for another. One of the most important lessons I learnt was to listen. Another lesson was to ask questions. “What do you want?” “Will this support you?” You find out that there are times you need to walk away and other times to be still with what is. There are times when their choices are going to make things more difficult for themselves. As painful or as angry as you, the caregiver may get, they need to go through with their choice. I would look at my Mom when her rebellious side stepped in and think to myself, “She still has her will. Her spark. Her fight.” Don’t let me be the one to take that away from her. Remember, the person is going through so many internal struggles. We can never comprehend what they are going through. There comes a time as care givers where stepping back allows them to work it out for themselves. That is the empowering part of their journey. Dignity is what we can give our loved ones.
Then there are the people that support and care for their loved ones. When my Mom had passed, a stranger came up to me and said, “If there is any advice I may give you, please take care of yourself in the following months to come.” I never heeded her words. As much as I knew that I had done everything possible in taking care of my Mom, there was still this little voice that wondered if I could do more. So I did more. For anyone else that came into my life, I did more. I never seemed to be able to hit the, ‘enough’, button. The beauty of the physical body is that when it has had enough, it has enough and says no more. How we listen to our body, how we interpret the messages, determines our steps. Let us take heed of the people that went before us. They leave us with valuable life lessons that help us to make more informed choices about how we choose to travel this life journey in our physical body.