A few days ago I was asked by the Executive Director of my temple to give a talk at the 9 and 10:30am services on Sunday. The topic he asked me to address was how illness has affected or inspired my practice. Little did he know that it was because of an illness that my practice was born.
Seven years ago my daughter had just begun Kindergarten, and my son was in the 3rd grade. I had taken this opportunity to go back to work full-time after being a stay at home mom for eight years. I had also been voted into the position of PTA President at my children’s school, and because, why not — I accepted the position as leader of my daughter’s Girl Scout troop (something I had absolutely no experience in or clue about). I was still clinging tightly to my role as homemaker in addition to all of this, so after work and PTO meetings and Girl Scout meetings I would come home and make dinner and clean the house and do the laundry, and do everything that I had been doing before I started working 40 hours a week outside of the home.
To say that I was overscheduled and busy is an understatement.
And then my mom got sick.
And true to my mother’s nature of never doing anything halfway, she didn’t get just a little bit sick. She was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in November of 2010. Her health had been declining for several months and I had been helping clean her house and make meals for them when I could, but I never stayed long and I was always too busy to do too much.
There was a day in late October that I finally noticed that she needed help, and I called her doctor to tell her that my mother wasn’t eating enough and looked sick. So on November the 2nd, she was admitted to the hospital. A few hours after that, we were told that she had an inoperable mass that was wrapped around her esophagus and squeezing it shut, making it nearly impossible to eat and breathe, and that nearly every other part of her body, including her brain, had cancer in it. She had two, maybe four, weeks to live.
Weeks. Not months– weeks.
The next morning, I took a leave of absence from my job (which turned into a permanent resignation). I stepped down from being PTA President, and I handed off my Girl Scout leader duties to someone else. I spent the next four weeks living with my parents in my childhood home, waking every two hours to give my mother her medicine and breathing treatments, trying to get her to eat, and helping her to the bathroom. I also spent a lot of time lying in bed next to my mother watching TV, talking, reminiscing, and sleeping.
I slowed down.
It’s funny how the things you don’t have time for suddenly become important when there’s not much time left.
One night while I was lying there, I remembered a class that I had taken in college that focused on World Religion, and specifically Buddhism. I remembered the part about meditation and I thought “I need to get me some of that inner peace. Where do I sign up for that?”
So I did what every new Buddhist does and ordered a meditation cushion from Amazon. And it gathered dust for a couple of months until I finally sat down on it one day after my mother had passed, and my practice was born. My mother’s illness taught me the value of slowing down. It taught me the necessity of saying no. It taught me that when my brain is scattered and I have too much to do and not enough time to do it, the solution is always to sit and be still, and then do what’s next. To focus on what’s in front of me. But most of all, it taught me to appreciate every single moment we have – even, and especially, the really hard ones.