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Compassion Coping with Loss Easter Emotions Empathy Forgiveness Letting Go Parenting

Getting Through Grief

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My mom died suddenly on a sunny spring day 12 years ago this week. She had been in excellent health and very happy with life. Looking back, just before her death, it had been a wonderful time in the life of our family.

In the magical thinking of childhood, I had believed that I would have some intuition if anything terrible would happen to someone I loved, but I had never been so shocked in my life than at the moment my wife told me that my mother was dead.

At one moment life was very good, and in the next, it seemed it could never be good again.

My mom had been my greatest support throughout my whole life. She was an inexhaustible source of love and generosity. She lived for us, always putting her interests above her own. She loved me just the way I was with all my fears and faults, but she also saw the best in me, nurtured my talents and the best of my nature. She more than anyone else helped me achieve my potential for good.

I would be a lesser person without my mom. Without her seeing and believing in the best in me, I may not have seen it myself. That was the power of my mother’s love.

Her death was like a solar eclipse. A great energy and light in my life was immediately gone, and for what seemed a long stretch of time, it stayed that way and my life was diminished.

I’ve imagined what our lives would be like if my mother was still alive. She would have loved to see my children grow up, and she would be happily involved every step of the way. She would be at every violin and dance performance, school concert and football game. She would have shown her boundless love with the thousand thoughtful acts of kindness that came so naturally to her. She would have taught my daughter to bake and cook, and she would have been a better role model to my children than anyone else in their lives.

I know she would have been proud of me when I did my best for others, but she would probably tell me not to work so hard and risk burning myself out for everyone around me. But then again, that’s a quality I inherited from her.

I have never met a better person than my mother – no one with the same integrity and faith; no one with the same compassion and generosity; no one as thoughtful; no one as honest.

Maybe this is why I have been so disappointed by the behaviour of others and often am let down by the people around me. The rest of the world seems so selfish and self-centred, so stingy and thoughtless, and so small hearted.

But the legacy of my mom was her love – generous and compassionate, accepting the shortcomings of others but loving anyway, and it is this love that I give forward to my own children, to my family, to my friends, to my colleagues, to my patients and to every other human being I have the opportunity to help.

My mother was a great soul, but her love lives on in this world through me, and if I have loved my children well enough, through the love they will give forward to others. My mother’s love will continue to make the world a better place beyond our own lives, a little kinder and thoughtful, more gentle and generous.

Categories
Coping with Loss Easter Emotions Happiness Letting Go Love Purpose Relationships

A Hundred Days to Happiness #25: Moving forward from the wasteland

Wasteland or Beach? Davidicus Wong
Wasteland or Beach? Davidicus Wong

In his poem, The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot said, “April is the cruelest month.” The waste land refers to a state of spiritual desolation, a life without hope and meaning. It is a reference to the Grail legends, wherein the wounded king’s domain lies in ruins. It can also refer to modern times.

In a lifetime, we weather many storms. At times, sorrow rains, but at our core we remain dry. At others, joy shines upon us, yet we still cast shadows. In good times and in bad, there is a constant though sometimes imperceptible wind; what is this that can sustain us through the vagaries of life?

In 2003, April was indeed the cruelest month for me. The sudden death of my mother was a shock. Although I was fortunately old and wise enough to have already valued and nurtured my relationship with her, the loss struck with stark finality.   It seemed as if all was lost.

It is no coincidence that Easter is celebrated in early spring, when the sun shines longer and the cherry blossoms bloom. Life emerges from the dark, dead of winter. We are ready for renewal.

The cyclical changing of the seasons informs our perceptions of time and mortality. Change is inevitable, indeed constant. Death is an unavoidable part of life.

Although we recognize repeating patterns and relationships, we are caught up in a dynamic of change, always moving forward in time until we meet our own end. We and everything in our world are never exactly the same from moment to moment.

Many when confronted by inevitable change, struggle to cope. Some see their cup of life as half full; others, half empty. In the golden years, a few see that cup as chipped and nearly dry.

I choose to see through the illusion of the cup. My world is infinitely grand. It is filled not with a finite amount of water but rather an ocean. It is teeming with life, mystery and adventure. It is ever changing, yet nothing of value is completely lost; it is transformed.

We are buffeted by the waves and storms of life, but no matter how great the storm, we can enjoy calm waters a few metres below the surface. We must each nurture a central core of peace. It is an inner strength that can sustain us throughout the great and small changes of life.

The grail which can rescue each of us from the waste land is an abiding sense of purpose. It requires us to be open to shift perspectives, to calmly revisit our deepest values and goals. It is these that will serve as compasses as we find our way out of desolation.

Life is all about relationships. My relationship with my mother did not end with her passing. Her greatest values, her wisdom and her love are inseparable from my own character. I see her and her influence in my father, sister, brother and each of her grandchildren. I appreciate the continuity of the past, present and future.

The key to living more fully and consciously is to remember what matters most. In your interactions with others, recognize that the present represents yesterday’s dreams and tomorrow’s memories. Treat and cherish your loved ones accordingly.

Categories
Caregiving Compassion Coping with Loss Easter Emotions Letting Go Love Parenting patient-doctor relationship Relationships

Channel your inner mom: 4 ways to be a better mom . . . to yourself

When I come home to my wife at the end of the day, I know better than to ask, “What did you do today?”

On the days she doesn’t work, she accomplishes a myriad of tasks that magically make the lives of everyone in our family run smoothly. Bills are paid, appointments made and events planned. No one is left waiting for a ride to school, music lessons or practice. No one is hungry.

Motherly magic is largely invisible. We don’t appreciate it until it’s gone. The days when my wife is out of town are long days indeed.

Good parents teach their children the essentials, and they teach best by behaviour rather than words. We internalize – for good or ill – the lessons of our parents.

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This season has been a difficult one for my sister and me over the past 10 years.

I write and practice medicine in my hometown of Burnaby because of my mom. A big reason why I chose work here was to ensure that my parents got the best of care when they eventually grew old.

My personal golden rule of medicine is to treat every patient as I would want a family member treated. I therefore would do the same level of investigation, prescribe the same treatments and refer to the same consultants as I would want for my own parents.

I expected to look after both of them – if they needed me to – in their golden years. When we bought our home, we chose one with a ground level bedroom and bathroom just in case they wanted to move in with us someday.

Garden, ED Pool - Davidicus Wong

Yellow was my mom’s favourite colour and Spring was a favourite season. She appreciated natural beauty and she loved to garden. On a sunny spring day at the end of April 2003, my previously active and healthy mother attended a recreational class at Confederation Centre just steps away from the public library that we both frequented throughout our lives and the pool where I continue to swim.

Without any warning, she collapsed, apparently from a cardiac arrest, and despite prompt and professional attention from centre staff, lifeguards and paramedics, she could not be resuscitated.

I was out of town with my wife and young children, and I remember the shock and disbelief when my sister called to tell me that our mother was dead.

Flower Bed at Bonsor - Davidicus Wong

My mother modeled unconditional love. She appreciated and expected the best in us but forgave us for being imperfect and making mistakes. She lived a life of selflessness, generosity and compassion. Her circle of concern seemed to expand without boundaries.

She inspired us to give the best of ourselves. This was not to please her because her love was unconditional. When someone appreciates the best in you, you come to see it yourself.

I imagine how different life would have been had my mother been alive for the past 10 years. She would have loved spending time with my children. She would have been there for all their sports, recitals, school concerts and graduations.

She adored them as little children, and she would have adored them as they grew. We would have enjoyed her great meals and all the holidays that she would make special, and every one of my birthdays would have continued to be a celebration.

But I realize that my mother has been with me all along. Though she has not been here to teach my children, I have tried to pass her lessons on to them. I can only give forward what she has given to me.

I often remind my patients to be good moms to themselves.

I ask them to channel their inner mom. We all have one deep down inside – just like the inner six pack. Some have to take a big breath in and dig deeper.

Most of us tend to be hard on ourselves – critical, judgmental and unforgiving. We could all use a little more compassion for others and ourselves. Many of us don’t give ourselves the care we need.

Here are four ways to be a better mom to yourself – direct orders from your inner mom.

Go to bed. Make sure you get enough rest. You’ll perform better at school and work in the morning, and you won’t get run down and sick.

Go out and play. Get some physical activity every day. It’s essential for your emotional and physical wellbeing.

Eat your vegetables. Don’t skip meals and don’t ruin your appetite with junk food. Though not everyone can eat an early breakfast, we all need regular snacks and meals to get through the day.

You can do better. Your inner mom may not be talking about your partner or spouse. See the best in yourself and be inspired to do your best. Move towards your positive potential.

Central Park Duck Pond - Davidicus Wong

Categories
Coping with Loss Easter Grace Letting Go Love Relationships

Finding Comfort With Loss

My father-in-law passed peacefully this Easter Sunday. Recognizing that his long life was ending, he found strength and comfort with what mattered most throughout his life: family and faith.

One of his greatest strengths was his devotion to his family firmly founded on his loving partnership with my mother-in-law. His deepest joy and greatest pride was in his children and grandchildren. With each of them, he shared an unshakable faith and love.

Where do families and friends find comfort with loss?

We are told to hold on to our memories and that they will give us comfort and even happiness in the future. Yet in the immediacy of grief, those memories can be painful. The bereaved often feel an overwhelming void – a profound emptiness.

This is the effect of losing one who has been significant in our lives.

I remember that terrible feeling when my mother died nine years ago. With time, that void was gradually filled with a comforting feeling of gratitude – thankfulness for how I was enriched by my mother, recognition of how deeply she informed every aspect of my life, remembering much of what she had taught me and realizing how she remained an inseparable part of who I am and how I love others. I now find great peace and joy in sharing memories of my mother with my children.

We make sense of our lives – and cope with loss – through our stories. Our memories form the content of those stories. How we tell our stories interprets those memories. We are actors and coauthors in the stories of our lives.

The challenge for each of us is to live each day with the end in mind, attending to what matters most in the grand interweaving stories of our shared lives. At the end of each day and the end of each life, what matters most is love.

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Caregiving Easter Grace Letting Go Love Relationships

What Easter Means to Me: The Cycles of Life & Love

April to me is a bittersweet month. We celebrate my sister’s birthday, yet it is also the month 9 years ago that our mother died unexpectedly.

In grief, we are drained of the joy in life. We may feel empty and isolated, disconnected from the rest of the world. Much of what had once engaged or enraged us suddenly becomes meaningless.

That profound sense of loss is certainly the tone of Good Friday. So why is this day deemed “good”?

Mythologist, Joseph Campbell pointed out the double meaning of Christ’s atonement for our sins. In that word, he sees “at one”-ment. This is the recognition that we share identity with one another, with nature and with the divine.

As mortal creatures with human bodies, we are born, we grow, we live and we die. We are part of the cycle of life and death.

We are also part of a more profound spiritual and emotional dynamic – the cycle of love. Recognizing this lifted me from the depths of my own grief. When I looked into the beautiful faces of my own children, I realized that I saw them with the same love with which my mother loved us. In spite of our imperfections, we were loved. She saw the best in us even when we could not see it, and through love, she brought out the best in us.

That love – unconditional and undeserved – is a gift of grace. It transcends our individual needs, egos and self-interests. It transcends cultures. It transcends our own lives.

This Easter, we find ourselves within the cycle of love as my dear father-in-law is supported in palliative care. All members of our extended family have been graced with his kindness and love, and all participate in supporting him with love at the end of life.

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Coping with Loss Easter Grace Letting Go Love

What Easter Means to Me (1st of 2 parts)

To many, Easter is a great long weekend: four days off sandwiched between two four-day work weeks. It seems a perfect time for a quick getaway to the ferries or up the Sea to Sky Highway, cross-border shopping or catching up on chores around the house.

But for Christians, Easter is more important than Christmas itself. On Good Friday, we remember Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. On Easter Sunday, we celebrate His rebirth.

It may at first seem difficult to understand but you don’t have to be a believer to recognize the profound emotional and spiritual symbolism – after death and desolation, life and hope.

Is it by coincidence that Easter is celebrated in early spring when the sun shines longer and cherry blossoms bloom?

Next: Finding meaning in Easter, life, death and love.