The Generous Husband

When considering the greatest acts of love imaginable this is not likely to be on your list. You might think of someone escaping a war-torn country to be with his love, or some woman defying her entire culture to share her life with the man she truly loves, or maybe you’d think of some couple who meets during a disaster and goes on to have a wonderful family. But you won’t think of this.

We think of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia as diseases that impact much older people but by her late 40’s Karen was already showing signs that something was wrong, and soon she couldn’t even set a proper dinner table let alone run her life safely and effectively. By 50 they were making plans to get her into a home where she would be safe and well looked after.

Maybe the doctors and nurses were more prepared for it due to their experience. These brain diseases can attack various regions and often they’ll attack the ones involving our social comprehension. So people will become rude without meaning to, or they’ll say inappropriate things, or sometimes they’ll even do them. And sometimes, they’ll behave in ways that are far more complicated.

The home called. They had caught Bob’s wife in bed with another man. It was clearly sexual. A meeting was called. They trick is, the people involved were young enough that it was difficult to control their every move. More of these instances seemed inevitable. What did Bob and his daughter want to do?

What a thing to be asked. Do? What would someone do in such a situation? Both Bob and his daughter wanted some professional guidance but there is no guidance for a wife becoming extremely uninhibited and sexualised. No one else could consent on her behalf, and yet obviously no one knew if she was capable of consent if she needed it. And worst of all for Bob, his wife didn’t remember Bob or his daughter, and instead she thought she was married to the man she was sleeping with. Who imagines dealing with that at 50? Or is it worse for Bob’s daughter at half his age?

This can seem like an impossible situation unless you’re Bob and you’re in it. But Bob found a way through it. I’m sure it’s not easy, but it’s a route he can have faith in. Because Bob’s basically been told that this love and sexuality is an aspect of his wife’s disease. Even if they move her to another home, it isn’t likely to change. So Bob asked the only intelligent, loving question left. “Is she happy when she’s with him?”

I’m confident it was a very difficult answer to give him because it was overwhelmingly affirmative. Yes, she and the stranger she met in hospital appear to love each other very much and both seem happiest and healthiest when they’re together. Bob’s wife is happier and more alive if she is allowed to experience her love with another man.

Can you imagine the position Bob is in? Can you imagine that you’ve planned your retirement and just as you’re getting close to the point where you hit what you thought would be the easiest period of your lives together, instead you’re not only entirely forgotten about, but moreover you must actually approve of, and even in strange ways pay for, your spouse to have a powerful romantic and sexual relationship with someone else? Wow.

This is the height of love because what has Bob done? He’s put his wife’s needs before his own. He volunteers to suffer so that his wife may have peace and happiness. That’s as generous a love as we can have. Bob wants his wife to be happy, even if that means she’s happiest with someone else.

If Bob can do all this, then I’m sure the rest of us can do better than we’re doing. So let’s all take Bob as an example and, for the rest of this week, do your best to put the needs of your partner ahead of yourself. And while I do feel for Bob, I’m also happy that his spiritual courage has lead him to experience the greatest form of love that anyone can partake in. Because as daunting as it may be, we should all be more like Bob.

peace. s

PS You can follow the link above to hear Bob tell his own story.

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Everything Changes

995-relax-and-succeed-if-things-are-going-wellThis was written out longhand. In cursive script no less! It’s amazing how much that changes the writing process inside one’s head. The reason I’m handwriting is because I intentionally don’t use a smartphone but I wanted to write about the experiences I’ve been having while sitting in the emergency department of a hospital.

I’ve been on a huge time-crunch over several months due to unexpected circumstances and the stakes are very high: the care of my parents. My best friend had come into town to help me get the fantastic amount of work done that’s required for me to prepare for my parents. After close to two weeks of 5am to 1am workdays she was on her way out for a dog walk and she ended up slipping on the stairs, tumbling head over heels and she broke her arm and dislocated her shoulder! One second you’re on a dog walk and the next you’re in emergency.

Everyone in this waiting room had concerns this morning. Everyone had fears and stresses and worries and yet now those are flickers at best. Every bit of energy is focused on their arm, their stomach, their heart. Family members from all walks of life converge in the waiting room where all differences vanish. In this room no one cares where you’re from or what language you speak or what religion you are; in here we’re all just people with loved ones in pain and danger. It really brings people together.

995-relax-and-succeed-be-careful-how-you-judgeSome of us respond to the care with gratitude and some with fear. The fearful ones sound angry and are often met with harsh tones back from staff which is understandable. No one likes to be spoken to in unpleasant ways and yet at the same time I doubt we should expect the best behaviour from people rushing into this building. Certainly everyone I’ve spoken with feels like these are some of their worst days and they’re likely to be on their worst behaviour. Fear is best met with compassion. That benefits both parties.

What’s interesting is the state of everyone here. They were themselves earlier but now they are the relative of the person in trouble. Their own identity has been abandoned and random thoughts about their life has been replaced with random thoughts about what’s happening right now. Everyone is looking at their lives from a new perspective. Everything suddenly potentially means something different.

I’m lost too. This leaves a lot up in the air for me and even more for my incredible best friend. But rather than let my mind reel I kept my mind still and I observed. I watched the elderly Indian man go from very polite and patient to very argumentative all in steps that matched the news he got about his wife, who he clearly loves a great deal. You could see the shift as he added each new narrative element every time a doctor or nurse came by with the news he didn’t want. And yet the staff that encountered him later in the process would walk away with the impression that he was unpleasant person when that wasn’t accurate at all.

995-relax-and-succeed-its-amazing-how-a-personWhether it’s us getting hurt or someone we love, almost no one sees these experiences coming. Which means if you’re not having one now you’re actually experiencing that really tough luck to notice–the absence of trouble. As Richard Carlson used to say, people are mad the one day every five years that their alarm doesn’t go off, but they fail to be grateful the other 1824 days when it did ring.

Situations like this remind us of what’s really important. I’m lucky, almost everyone in here is in for something far more serious than my friend is. I felt genuine gratitude for that. And my connections with others here might have been under difficult circumstances, but they have been heartfelt and I would include them as positive interactions. Empathy feels a lot like love. I look for opportunities for it selfishly.

The people in this waiting room made this part of my stay much less stressful and one could even say they collectively helped. I think we all got helped in that room. I wish them all well with their situations and I head off to find a way to post this blog. In the meantime, ask yourself what would happen to your life if you suddenly had to go in surgery and then be grateful you don’t have to have those experiences. And when you do have painful experiences just remember, they’re not bad either, they’re preparing us for our futures as the frailer people we’re all destined to become.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.

Born Again

If you look at it from the right angle, being told you were dead is a big plus in life because it gets you to really appreciate that being alive is actually quite a privilege. So first my dad almost lost me due to my massive brain injury when I was five, and then I almost lost him in 1983 when he ended his roofing career by doing a 3 meter head-first dive into concrete. He’s had cancer, he experiences strokes, and the other day my parent’s neighbour found him 669 Relax and Succeed - Every experience no matter how bad it seemsunconscious and bleeding on her front sidewalk.

I have been keenly aware since I was five that just as I almost did, people can vanish and often without warning. One minute we can talk to them and the next minute we can’t. When Mom and I got to to the hospital physical Dad was there but mental Dad wasn’t. He didn’t know who we were or what had happened. It’s the first time I remember seeing my mother look scared, and Dad looked lost. It must be a terrible sensation to not be able to reel in your own identity. And at the same time it shows that our identity is little more than a collection of our memories and habits.

As I sat in the Emergency Room waiting area I couldn’t help but notice the worried expressions on nearly every face. Everyone was living in the future or the past. They were wishing someone hadn’t tried that trick on their bike, or they wish their diet had been better the last 20 years. Or if they were living in the future they were speculating about what might happen. That’s when I was reminded of how most people see things.

Because I knew very profoundly that I really could lose my father at any second, I did not waste a moment of our time together by wondering about times other than the moment we were in. In that moment I could see that he was scared and that he didn’t even know what would bring him comfort, and so I just held his hand and told him I loved him and that worked pretty well. With no offence to the others intended, if you were watching them closely you 669 Relax and Succeed - You have to embrace getting oldercould see they were so busy worrying about what they might lose that they weren’t very present at all with the people they were there with—including the patient.

Despite my awareness during the emergency I was aware that night that I had undergone a fundamental shift in my self-identity. I was born again as I realized that my time as a part of the next generation was approaching and it allowed me to come to realize that I’m unnerved by the idea of living without my father. I didn’t know it until this last accident happened, but I know of no safer place than in the presence of my entirely non-judgmental, fully supportive father. He’s always displayed courage, decency, kindness, generosity, compassion and intense interest.

My dad has been genuinely excited by everything that’s excited me. He loves it when I love my life and I do not like the idea of living without my hero and that knowledge has changed me. But rather than lament where I am in life I accept that these transitions are a natural part of my love for him and our movement though life. If I don’t resist them with wanting thoughts I will be able to fully immerse myself in the moment, and that’s better because that’s where I’ll find my Dad.

My parents are both way past the national average for lifespan. Mom teaches exercise three times a week and Dad volunteers all over the place plus he walks every neighbour’s dog. That’s what he was doing when he fell. But at their age things can change in an instant and so I’m fully 669 Relax and Succeed - Learn to appreciate what you haveaware that I could have another two decades of goodbyes or that the next one might be the last one. That can feel terrifying if I think about it from a what do I lose? perspective. But if I think about it as a simple reality, it suddenly makes my already beloved parents even more precious.

My Dad is my hero and I love my Mom thoroughly. If my life has been this great clearly they got a whole bunch of stuff right. If it works out that I get another 20 years I will be grateful for every single day. But if it ends sooner I will still be living in a state of mind where I am routinely, unbelievably grateful that these two amazing people are my parents. And loving that fact is about the best thing I can think to do with however much time we have left with each other.

Thanks Mom and Dad. If you were wondering if you succeeded—I can’t imagine a greater success than helping a kid to live a life that he’s absolutely loved. I love you both more than you can imagine.

hugs and kisses, s

PS Oh yeah, and as for Dad’s fall—his brain bleed is healing and he’s thankfully back on his anti-stroke medication. We’re going to watch some playoff hockey games together this week. 🙂