Taken from my son’s book titled, “The Three Questions” by Jon J. Muth, a young boy named Nikolai asks these three questions in an attempt to learn how to be a good person. Adapted from a story by Leo Tolstoy, the author attempts to bring these profound, meaningful questions to the minds of young children.
This past year challenged me to confront these questions when I assumed the extraordinary responsibility of attending to my mother’s health. Throughout the year, dependent on the circumstances of any particular day in my life, the answers fluctuated.
By Thanksgiving, my mom’s health declined significantly. By early December, my mother chose to enter hospice. Despite the holidays and all the exciting plans I had for the development of my practice in December, I concluded the following:
What is the best time to do things?
Mom is dying. Attend to what is happening at this very moment. All of your other plans will fall into place as they need to. Have faith. Trust this process. Do not be afraid.
Who is the most important one?
My mother needed me and I needed her. This relationship became my number one priority. I enlisted much support to help me attend to this primal, powerful need.
Outside of my typical character, I unexpectedly closed my office for three weeks. During that time, my mom and I had the extraordinary privilege of saying goodbye to each other. We thanked each other, hugged, shared memories, confirmed her decision, cried, kissed and loved.
I spent my hours at her bedside, kissing her forehead, watching her, visually taking in her face, body and breath. On December 12, at 4:25pm, I watched my mother transition into death as she drew her last breath. I sawher last breath.
This was my mom. Our love was complicated, difficult, strong, joyful, passionate, confusing, and strained. Caring for her proved so stressful that I returned to my own therapy to help me take better care of myself.
As I look back on this experience, I can safely say that I hold no regrets. I stepped up. I loved hard. I made difficult decisions. I honored myself as much as I was able while trying to care for her needs. I struggled. I am now emerging.
Relationships, whether with our parents, children, partners, lovers, friends, family or pets, all hold their challenges. Yet we live for our relationships. It is these connections that give our lives meaning and purpose.
In the past three weeks, I bore witness to my mother’s death, processed some of my grief, cried without apology, experienced a primal loneliness and connected to my beloved spouse and children. I have also slept a lot, mentally regrouped, prepared for my return to work and declared profound gratitude for my mom, my work and my life.
Consider Nikolai’s three questions above as you journey into 2017. For in the book, Nikolai learns:
“There is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.”
Here’s to 2017: to the beauty of births and new beginnings and to the honoring of deaths and inevitable endings. And here’s to what happens in between both, to life – to our complex, beautiful awe-inspiring life.
Happy New Year…may 2017 bring you growth, meaning, joy, love and fulfillment.
Special Note: To all of my active clients, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kindest words, compassion, flexibility, texts, emails and acknowledgments of my mom’s passing. I can never fully express how grateful I am to be a part of your journey and to have you be a part of mine.