Earlier this year my grandmother passed away. She was 88 years old. She passed away in the arms of my grandfather. It was quick and fairly painless, which is what most of us hope our death will be. And really, as sad as deaths are, it was a beautiful way to leave this world – in the arms of the man she loved deeply. In the house that she was so proud of and spent the majority of her daily life.
In that moment my grandfather’s world came crashing down. I was on the receiving end of his phone call as he had her in his arms. I cried with him, and then silence. We were both lost for words.
Since then I’ve spent a great deal of time with him. He needs the help. At times a great deal of it. And being the proud and reserved person he is, it can be a real struggle. For him – to accept that his health is declining and now needs help from others – and for me to watch as he tries so hard to manage on his own.
There are pleasant moments where we talk about how beautiful the day is and wander through his backyard picking mandarins straight from the tree. And times when his eyes light up as he talks of those special moments shared with his beloved wife.
At other times it’s rather sombre and we talk about death. The agony he feels over losing his wife and how he could have prevented it. Or the confusion, pain and anger still lingering in his heart as he talks of his daughter’s death (my mother) three years ago. I sense also an immense fear of his own inevitable death.
What I’ve noticed amongst not only my grandfather, but those around me suffering in their own way, is that their pain and suffering lingers and weighs heavily on them, because they refuse to accept it.
And I think (at times) acceptance is what sets us free from suffering so deeply.
I look at my own experience with my mother. She committed suicide. For a long time I blamed myself. I felt confused by it all, replaying the tragedy over and over in my mind. And then I reached a point where I accepted her death. And that she chose to leave the earth because she needed to leave.
I don’t blame myself. I don’t hold any anger towards her. It is what it is.
When I started to let go, I began to feel lighter.
I also look at this very confusing space inside of me that seems to be the undertone of my life. When I began to accept it as a part of who I am, and of how I grow, the fear surrounding it began to subside.
Pain and suffering are a part of life. None of us are devoid of pain.
At times we can choose our pain – sleepless nights to attain an educational degree, or foregoing on sugary sweets and overeating to keep our body healthy.
And at other times we can’t choose pain and it forces itself into our life.
We can try to fight against it. And most of us will for a while. But at some point we may need to surrender to our pain. To accept it for what it is so that we can then move beyond it in one way or another.
I’m waiting for my grandfather to reach that point where he is ready to accept. I sit and listen. At times I gently try to lead him there. But perhaps he won’t accept any of it and will leave this world with that weight within his heart. And that’s his choice.
But I wonder what life might be like for him if he lets go and begins to accept.
If he accepts that his wife left in a sad but beautiful way. If he accepts that his body is becoming weaker and that it’s time for a little help. If he accepts that his daughter left because she felt a pain that she could no longer endure, despite 20 years of trying. If he accepts that his own death will happen. As it will for us all.
And this relates to all of us.
We can keep fighting against our pain and refuse to accept the truth. Or we can accept things for how they are and step back from trying to control or change it. Perhaps then we may feel peace within ourselves.