Saturday, July 12, 2008

Stormy Sunset

My mother is 85 years old and, until very recently, had been in pretty good health. Especially for one at such an advanced age. On May 28 she was still driving (yikes!) and happily pursuing her favorite pastime – shopping. She has lived alone since my father died about 25 years ago, and has thoroughly enjoyed being in control of her life. “Calling the shots” is extremely important to her. All of them! It is this absolute need to be in control, to have it her way, that is now her greatest source of suffering.

On May 29 she went into the hospital for a planned pacemaker replacement. All went well and she was to return home in about a week. But, as Ajahn Chah frequently taught, “it's all unsure”. With all discharge planning complete, she became ill, spiked a high fever and began to hallucinate. My brother phoned me with this news and I arrived the next day. She had developed an infection and was now in very serious condition. She was transferred to a larger hospital a short distance away. While in the ICU there, a superb team of doctors and nurses managed to successfully fight the infection. Once again it appeared that she would soon be able to return home.

As she made steady and even dramatic improvement medically, her mental and emotional state took an equally dramatic decline as she grew impatient, angry, demanding and even abusive to those caring for her. She is angry and fearful, not really at the prospect of death, but at the very idea of not being in control. I have seen her react to not getting her way numerous time over the years. It is never pleasant. In this case, in an effort to retain that all important control, she is refusing to participate in her own care. It is a challenging situation for all concerned. Not unlike the challenges faced by countless people and their loved ones the world over.

I have tried to see this through the lens of Dhamma. The aging, sickness and death which we all face sooner or later is serious business. It is a subject that I reflect on frequently. There is nothing I can do to alter the course that my mother has chosen to follow. She is competent and mentally intact, at least by traditionally accepted standards, and free to make these choices that are harming her both physically and mentally in this life and beyond. She has unknowingly given me a most valuable and unforgettable lesson on the urgent importance of a deep and committed practice.


Dhamma81 said...


Sorry to hear about the difficult times that you and your family must be going through. Seeing things in the light of the Dhamma is a help, but it might not always take away the pain entirely. In all honesty I'm not so good at this sort of thing so I all I can do is wish you and your family well in this challenging time. May you and your family be well.

puthujjana said...

Thank you Justin. I'm not so good at this either. You're right. Seeing this experience, to the extent that I'm able, in accordance with the Dhamma does not eliminate the pain. But it does help me to be with it, and to begin to understand it for what it is.


G said...

Rather belatedly, I'd like to echo what Justin wrote, Kris. May you & your family not suffer too much at this difficult time.

Of course, suffering is part of this life, and current events are part of your trip along the Way; it seems from your blog article that you're managing to see things through the lens of the Dharma, however. Although this seeing may not be perfect, as you've admitted, it is an indication that the Buddhdharma is not only alive in you but helping you to see things the way they are.

Be well through the suffering, Kris;

puthujjana said...

Thanks G. I just returned from another 2 week visit, and my mother has made some improvement. She is still quite ill, but the changes in her emotional state are huge and she has become quite the model patient.