Practicing “being with the difficult stuff”

I will not sugar-coat it: The past couple of weeks have been difficult for me. My mum was admitted to hospital as an emergency with a serious condition. As you can imagine, now that the country is in semi-lockdown mode, it’s near impossible to visit people in hospitals. I spent more than two weeks in a weird limbo of wanting to travel down south to see her and then finding that this would not be of any use because they would not let me into the building anyway. So we spoke on the phone every day and I sent her flowers and things, drummed up support from friends to send her something, too. So that she does not feel disconnected, forgotten, cast aside. Thanks again to all who supported with cards and gifts and flowers – that lightened up her world a lot.

Then finally, the physician in charge told me that I could now go and visit her because she had been hospitalised for so long and it would qualify as special circumstances. A couple of days later I was on a flight from Hamburg to Frankfurt. Now I am here. I set up camp in her place, wearing her clothes because I did not take much more with me than my toothbrush, my laptop, my yoga mat and the clothes I wore on the day. Luckily, my mum and I have roughly the same size of clothing. It was such a relief once I had made the decision to come here but getting to that decision was not easy. I weighed the general advice to skip any travel that is not strictly necessary against the damage it was doing to her and my mental health to continue to bear this situation of being separated in such a tough time.

November can be a nasty time of year. This one came with unexpected challenges and tough decisions.

It feels like I made the right call but that’s just it, there is no clear-cut «right» or «wrong» in this crazy world. There are just decisions and their ripple effects. And it’s about being considerate about these. And then there is my elderly grandpa, whom some of you know, for instance from my previous article on biography work. He has been an important figure in my life that shaped part of my identity and belief system (including some of the beliefs I have learned to question and shed, but that’s a different story). Anyway, he is 97 years of age now and still lives in his own flat by himself. My mum used to look after him and that had sacrificed much of her time doing so and their relationship is complicated, to say the least. Right now, Grandpa is being taken care of by a lovely bunch of people who help with getting him ready in the morning, running errands, cleaning the place, visiting him etc.. And he insisted on seeing me while I’m in town. You can see where this is going. When I mentioned the risk of infection, he said “I’ve lived my life – I’m not afraid of anything.” So, I visit him every day, try to distract him a little bit from all the aches and pains, to listen and be there at the other end of the table. I feel for him and notice that he is not enjoying life anymore and who could blame him for that. And I don’t know what to say other than «I hear you.» To a younger person you would probably say «ah, come on, there will be better days, don’t throw away your life like that». But that feels totally inappropriate. So I asked him today if he could think of something that he’d like to do while I’m here. Yes, he said, maybe if we take a little trip in the car together. So, we’re planning to do that on Saturday.

For me, as the near indestructible optimist and “perky person in chief”, one of the things I still feel I need to learn is to be with difficult stuff. Suffering. Pain. Letting go. I am not particularly good at any of these, trying to avoid them as best I can. So maybe there is a lesson for me in all of this. A lesson about re-integrating that part of me that I did not want. I want to practice “being with” instead of springing into activism mode or brushing dark feelings aside. These are my two go-to reactions when the emotional proverbial shit hits the fan. I want to make room for giving myself new options of dealing with grief, pain, despair.

Nature is perfectly fine with shedding, letting go, death and rebirth. I am not.

I practice yoga daily and I meditate and that is helping me a lot to cope with the situation. I feel like on the mat or on my pillow I am wiser and more resilient than off the mat, but some of it is spilling over. I am recognising that I do need to look after myself and I am taking that time and drawing that boundary between the outer world and me – and that feels good.

It also feels good to share my struggle, be it in writing these lines or in speaking with people. The conversations I have as part of my work give me energy and I am also making some new connections. One of the aspects I love about my life right now is that I feel comfortable to share how I am feeling without worrying about what people will think of me. I can be vulnerable. There are a LinkedIn Live session and a podcast invite lined up which I am looking forward to. I will try to use these not as a distraction but as an opportunity to be present fully and just see what happens.

Sending you warm greetings, as always. And this time around, I could, in fact, do with a hug from you, dear one.

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