Categories
Compassion Coping with Loss Letting Go Love

My Parents’ Stories: The Cycle of Love

Dad's family & home in Cumberland before his birth in 1930
Dad’s family & home in Cumberland before his birth in 1930

My dad was born on Vancouver Island in Cumberland, near Courtney and Comox. When Cumberland had a coalmine, it was one of the largest Chinatowns on the West Coast. My dad lost his father in early childhood. His mother was left with 6 children to raise on her own. But my grandmother’s life was difficult from the start. At age 9, she was sold to a wealthy Chinese family that moved to Vancouver. She worked throughout her childhood and was not taught English. She was married and had her first child at age 14. But my dad remembers her as being very good with her hands, a skilled chef and seamstress. She managed to make ends meet and raise each of her children to be independent.

My dad worked throughout his childhood to support his family, finished school, studied automechanics and worked at Vancouver Motors downtown. He saved enough to study science at UBC and dentistry at McGill. When he talks about his childhood, he never complains about the prejudice he endured or the hardship his family suffered. He talks about wonderful life experiences, his lifelong friends and the kindness of so many people along the way.

The Ng Siblings
The Ng Siblings

My mom was born in the Strathcona neighbourhood of Vancouver. When my mom was 9 years old, she and her 7 siblings were orphaned. Her oldest sisters were teenagers and her youngest brother was still in diapers. There was no extended family to help them. To keep the family together, the oldest sisters decided that they would all work to raise the rest of the family until the youngest finished school. My mom always taught me the value of a good family in which each is responsible for one another, and 76 years later, my aunts, uncles and cousins continue to celebrate the love of family at our annual Boxing Day party.

My parents’ stories could have been told with sadness or bitterness but instead, they are stories of courage, resilience, gratitude and love. The way they told their stories shaped how they lived their lives, related to others and raised our family.

My mom’s love for me was unconditional. She saw the best and expected the best of me. At first, I thought I had to be a top student and athlete like my brother to earn my parents’ love, but I eventually realized their love came with no conditions. I would always be loved and accepted just as I was.

My mom’s circle of concern continued to expand throughout her life. She had many friends and was involved in helping others in her United Church and community. She would go out of her way to make a positive difference in the lives of other people with not so random everyday acts of kindness.

When she died unexpectedly from a cardiac arrest 12 years ago, I was overwhelmed with grief, but over time I realized that my mother’s greatest gift was still with me. It was her love, compassion and kindness. I could never give back all the love that my mom had given me, but I was already giving it out and giving it forward. I realized that what I feel towards my own children is the same love my mother gave to me, and if I teach them well, that same love will be given to others beyond my own lifetime. My mother’s greatest legacy was of love. This legacy of love belongs to every one of us.

THE CYCLE OF LOVE

60% of our bodies is made up of water. It’s in each of our cells and in our circulation, but we don’t own that water. We consume it in our food and drink, we lose it through perspiration and elimination.

In school, we studied the Water Cycle. Water evaporates, condenses into clouds, precipitates as snow or rain, freezes, thaws, flows into rivers, lakes and oceans, continuously cycling around the globe. It belongs to no one. It belongs to everyone.

I see our selves as vessels of love and we are part of the Love Cycle. We receive love from many people throughout our lives – friends, family, teachers, coaches, ministers, nurses, doctors and other health care providers – and it comes in many forms including the random kindness of strangers. It doesn’t always come unconditionally – it comes in many imperfect and human forms because we are imperfect and human, but still we receive love from infinite sources.

Love is not a finite resource. It is in us to give, and the giving of love does not diminish us but connects us and makes us stronger.

Categories
Balance Compassion Coping with Loss Empowering Healthcare Forgiveness Friendship Grace Happiness Letting Go Love Parenting Positive Change

Achieve Your Positive Potential at Any Age

Tapestry Foundation, VanDusen Garden September 10th, 2015

On Thursday, September 10th, 2015, I spoke to an enthusiastic audience of over 200 brought together by the Tapestry Foundation for Health Care in this season’s first Dialogue on Aging. 

I talked about how we are co-authors of our own life stories, a new definition of health and the role of love in finding the ultimate meaning in our lives.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/96272981@N02/sets/72157656157306844/

Though I don’t actually use notes while public speaking, here are my draft speaking notes:

Achieve Your Positive Potential at Any AgeDavidicus Wong, M.D.

Thank you to each of you who has taken precious time out of this day to be here with me. Thank you, MaryLou Harrigan, who on behalf of the Tapestry Foundation, invited me to share some of what I have learned from my family, friends and patients.

Together we weave the tapestry of our lives. It is our shared story and a work of art. We are the creators and the creation. We are given the raw materials and circumstances of our lives. As we live our lives and relate to one another, we build upon what others have built and experience a life intricately connected with the rest of the world. Together we weave a tapestry of inconceivable complexity and beauty that continues to exist beyond our individual lives. This is the art of living . . . a work of art.

This evening, I’ll talk about change, a cause of much fear, frustration, anger and grief; how it is an inescapable reality of life on earth and being human; and how it is seen as a source of suffering.

I’ll talk about happiness; how popular culture sells us an empty version of it; how our pursuit of it actually leads to greater unhappiness; and I’ll share the secrets of lasting happiness.

I’ll introduce you to a new way of thinking about your health; recognizing the limitations of standard definitions, and leading to a new approach to caring for yourself.

By the end of this evening, you’ll understand the meaning of life (at least my version) and rather than seeing yourself as another hapless and helpless victim of change, you will recognize yourself as an agent of positive change, embracing age – welcoming each and every new day and seizing the positive potential of your life.

THE STORIES OF OUR LIVES

I chose the specialty of Family Practice – or it chose me, I simply answered its call – when I fell in love with the stories shared by patients. As medical students, when we take a history, we learn about family relationships, the pivotal points in every life, the triumphs, the tragedies and the disasters; and ultimately, how each person made sense of the unfolding of their lives.

Most people have to rely on reality TV, soap operas and romance novels to be privy to the intimate details of other people’s life stories. With deep listening to these stories, we learn empathy. Understanding the suffering that others endure, we develop compassion.

In an English Literature course, my professor told us that a comedy typically ends with a marriage and a tragedy with a funeral. If this was the case with real life, every one of our lives is ultimately a tragedy, and indeed that’s how a lot of people see their lives: after a certain age – 40, 50 or 60 – it’s a downhill ride to senescence.

I soon recognized that the happiest of my patients told their life stories quite differently. They accepted the same illnesses, accidents and losses in life but also recognized with gratitude the gifts that they had received – aspects of their health that continued to thrive, good fortune that came when most needed, and most importantly, love and kindness shared – particularly from family and friends who had passed on.

If tomorrow you met a friend you had not seen since early childhood, how would you tell your life story? How you reflect upon the past – what you regret and what you appreciate; how you judge others and judge yourself – can impact your happiness in the present and how you continue to see and live your life. Is there another way to tell your story?

My aspiration is that by the end of this evening, you may receive an insight that may inspire you to rewrite your story for the better and empower you to be an agent of positive change in the writing of your life story from this moment forward.

MY PARENTS’ STORIES

My dad was born on Vancouver Island in Cumberland, near Courtney and Comox. When Cumberland had a coalmine, it was one of the largest Chinatowns on the West Coast. My dad lost his father in early childhood. His mother was left with 6 children to raise on her own. But my grandmother’s life was difficult from the start. She was sold into slavery at age 9 to a wealthy Chinese family. She worked throughout her childhood and was not taught English. She was married and had her first child at age 14. But my dad remembers her as being very good with her hands, a skilled chef and seamstress. She managed to make ends meet and raise each of her children to be independent.

My dad worked throughout his childhood to support his family, finished school, studied automechanics and worked at Vancouver Motors downtown. He saved enough to study science at UBC and Dentistry at McGill. When he talks about his childhood, he never complains about the prejudice he endured or the hardship his family suffered. He talks about wonderful life experiences, his lifelong friends and the kindness of so many people along the way.

My mom was born in the Strathcona neighbourhood of Vancouver. When my mom was 9 years old, she and her 7 siblings were orphaned. Her oldest sisters were teenagers and her youngest brother was still in diapers. They received no help from their aunts and uncles in town. To keep the family together, the oldest sisters decided that they would all work to raise the rest of the family until the youngest finished school. My mom always taught me the value of a good family in which each is responsible for one another, and 76 years later, my aunts, uncles and cousins continue to meet at our annual Boxing Day party.

My parents’ stories could have been told with sadness or bitterness but instead, they are stories of courage, resilience, gratitude and love.

My mother’s love for me was unconditional. She saw the best and expected the best of me. At first, I thought I had to be a top student and athlete to earn my parents’ love, but I eventually realized their love came with no conditions. I would always be loved and accepted just as I was.

My mom’s circle of concern continued to expand throughout her life. She had many friends and was involved in helping others in her United Church and community. She would go out of her way to make a positive difference in the lives of other people with not so random everyday acts of kindness.

When she died unexpectedly from a cardiac arrest 12 years ago, I was overwhelmed with grief, but over time I realized that my mother’s greatest gift was still with me. It was her love, compassion and kindness. I could never give back all the love that my mom had given me, but I was already giving it out and giving it forward. I realized that what I feel towards my own children is the same love my mother gave to me, and if I teach them well, that same love will be given to others beyond my own lifetime. My mother’s greatest legacy was of love. This legacy of love belongs to every one of us.

THE LOVE CYCLE

60% of our bodies is made up of water. It’s in each of our cells and in our circulation, but we don’t own that water. We consume it in our food and drink, we lose it through perspiration and elimination.

In school, we studied the Water Cycle. Water evaporates, condenses into clouds, precipitates as snow or rain, freezes, thaws, flows into rivers, lakes and oceans, continuously cycling around the globe. It belongs to no one. It belongs to everyone.

I see our selves as vessels of love and we are part of the Love Cycle. We receive love from many people throughout our lives – friends, family, teachers, coaches – and it comes in many forms including the random kindness of strangers. It doesn’t always come unconditionally – it comes in many imperfect and human forms because we are imperfect and human, but still we receive love from infinite sources.

Love is not a finite resource. It is in us to give, and the giving of love does not diminish us but connects us and makes us stronger.

DISCOVERING YOUR POTENTIAL IN LIFE

When we are young, our potentials may seem vast. Choosing a career can be a daunting task for the young. When I’m counseling my own children, my young patients and others at a crossroads in their studies or careers, I draw them the 4 intersecting circles Steven Covey conceived in his book The Eighth Habit: your passions, your talents, your values and the needs of the world. Where these 4 circles intersect is your calling.

Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss”; heed the call and do what you were meant to do. When you listen to life and rise up to meet the challenge, you will find meaning and purpose.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “When what you say and what you do aligns with what you believe, there you will find happiness.”

But the call can change throughout our lives. We may receive the calling to a profession or mission in early adulthood or even in mid-life. Your calling at age 26 may be to be the best parent you can be to your child. When your career is established, your calling may be of generativity; What can you give forward to others and to the future?

Each day, there are opportunities to follow-through with an act of kindness, a word of encouragement, a thank you or a helping hand to someone in need. There is a positive potential to be realized in each day. We must see, feel and act.

YOUR POSITIVE POTENTIAL FOR HEALTH

How do you define health?

Many think of health as the absence of disease; indeed, healthcare is then seen as the treatment of illness or injury. I see that as a negative and reactive approach to wellbeing.

I see health as the dynamic balance of the important areas of your life (your body, your emotions, your environment, your family, your social relationships, your vocation, your mind and your spirit) and the achievement of your positive potential in each of those areas.

What that positive potential is begins with an understanding of your strengths and challenges in each area and guided by your own values, moves towards your own personal goals.

Considering your family relationships, you could ask, “What are my greatest goals and what is my ideal vision for my family?” We have to move beyond what is wrong to what can be great.

When I chaired the Ethical Resources Committee at Burnaby Hospital, I would ask the question, “Given the medical facts and the individual’s values, what is the right course of action? What is the positive potential of this patient’s situation?” What is the best we can do for this individual?

In the presence of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, we can empower the individual with education and professional support so that they remain in control and experience the best quality of life.

HOW POPULAR CULTURE MISLEADS US

The happiness that popular culture promises us is ultimately unsatisfying and in fact leads to emptiness and greater unhappiness. The common belief is that we are happy when we get what we want; happiness comes from the satisfaction of our cravings (for material things, sensual pleasures, wealth, prestige, status, power, the latest fashion or the newest iPhone). But none of these things last and neither does the satisfaction we experience.

THE REALITY OF CHANGE

The human body at peace with itself is more precious than the rarest gem.

Cherish your body. It is yours this one time only. The human form is won with great difficulty. It is easy to lose.

All worldly things are brief like lightning in the sky. This life you must know as the tiny splash of a raindrop, a thing of beauty that disappears even as it comes into being.

Therefore set your aspiration and make use of every day and night to achieve it.

                                                                                                            Tsongkhapa

 Change is the nature of all things. It is our very nature.

It is therefore futile to pursue and cling to that which does not last. Nothing lasts.

If your desire is to remain youthful for the rest of your life, you will ultimately be unhappy. If you seek to accumulate wealth and hold onto it forever, you will never be satisfied. If your goal is to be free of aging, illness, accident or loss, you will not find happiness. If you expect your relationships to stay the same your whole life, you will be disappointed.

In our youth, change means growth and we welcome adventure. In our early years, we are looking forward.

With age, change can be seen as a decline in our minds, in our bodies and in our relationships. We look back to what we have lost, and we look forward to further loss.

We forget that we are always growing and there remains the potential for positive change even in the face of difficult circumstances and personal loss.

This insight into the reality of change can heighten our appreciation for every moment and all of experience without aversion or clinging. We must appreciate what we have when we have it. Every gift that we hold (including those we love most) is not ours to hold forever. We must love and appreciate others while we can and let go when we need to.

COPING WITH CHANGE

A key psychological principle is the locus of control. If we see life as hostile, unpredictable and beyond our control, we become anxious, demoralized and hopeless. To prevent this spiral down with the stresses of life, we must recognize what we must accept and what we have the power to change. Accept what you cannot change, but accept responsibility to change what you can.

Become an Agent of Positive Change.

Though you, your world and everyone around you is in constant change, you can be dynamically responsive to change and seek out the positive potential of every moment. Our brains are naturally resistant to change, we quickly fall into habits of behaviour (e.g. eating and physical activity) and habits of thought (e.g. conceptualizing and relating). To be efficient frequently repeated thoughts and behaviours become entrenched with reinforced neural pathways.

But the science of neuroplasticity has taught us that our brains can change for the better, we can literally rewire our neural pathways and create new habits of thought and behaviour. This is how we adapt to our changing world.

But it requires effort and practice to reinforce new more positive habits and ways of thinking.

You can retell your life story in a more empowering way, embrace more fully the present moment and create a more positive future.

SO WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?

We discover ourselves and find meaning through the living of our lives. Through intention and action, we define who we are, and like rough stones in a tumbler, we rub against one another and through our relationships discover our truest selves.

A few years ago, my old friend, Steve told me that his little daughter, Vanessa wanted him to play with her when he was busy with yard work. He felt guilty when she asked, “Why did you and mom have me if you’re not going to play with me?”

Behind the sly daughter-father manipulation, there was ironic truth.

Why are we here? What is the point? Where is the meaning?

 To be born; to learn and to forget; to grow and to age; to see, to want, to crave, to pursue, to gain and to lose all we gain; to care, to worry, to suffer, to regret and not to care; to grow ill and to die?

There is one answer for each question. Why are we here? What is the point? Where is the meaning?

To learn to love. To love and be loved.

 But we are confused by love. 

It can be an idea (that consumes our thoughts and preoccupies our minds); an emotion (that carries us away), or a spiritual experience (THE spiritual experience: the experience of the spirit and the discovery of your true self).

Love the idea or thought can be a concept, obsession or preoccupation. Everyone has a different idea of what love is and we forget that others, including those we love, may have vastly different ideas of just what love is, and our ideas about love can change with experience; they can expand or contract.

Love is also an emotion or a variety of emotions. It can be warm and fuzzy; faithful, full and abiding; passionate and possessive; wanting and craving.

But the big L Love is THE spiritual experience – the experience of the spirit; of our deeper, greater self; and of our deepest connection to another. This is the experience of your true self and the true self of another. This is the real thing. This is authentic love: metta, compassion, lovingkindness, agape.

This is why we are here.

This is the point of it all.

This is the meaning of life.

Without Love, we see ourselves as separate and competing in a win-lose world; what benefits others does not benefit you; to give to others takes away from you; to give strength to others diminishes you; we are always incomplete and searching.

Without Love, we pursue counterfeit happiness: the illusion of perfection, having everything we want; the delusion of permanence, the futile search for lasting satisfaction.

Without Love, all is ultimately empty and we remain alone.

With Love, all is clear. Everything makes sense.

We see ourselves clearly. We see others as they are. The world and life start to make sense.

Without judgment, with understanding and compassion, with complete acceptance, with hope but without expectation, we see beauty in another, in our lives and in ourselves.

We see our lives and every relationship as a gift.

Love creates a “new math”. You no longer need to keep track. The more you give, the more you get. The less you keep, the more you are free. You give more than you get and you don’t keep track. You win by giving all you have; the winner gives it all.

Being empty of self, you live fully.

At the end of each day and at the end of this life, you don’t want to regret not giving enough or loving enough. It is like leaving Denmark having spent your last Chrona because it is worth nothing when you leave.

Life is lived fully by loving without limit, by giving all you’ve got and holding nothing back.

THE EXPRESSION OF LOVE

To experience Love is to awaken; to express Love is to be fully alive.

We can express love as we serve others: through our intention to do good (and not to harm), to be open to the suffering and the needs of another, and to help where we can; to seize each and every opportunity to make a positive difference; to share our own gifts; to see beauty in another, and bring out the best.

Love lifts us up.

Our families can open us to connecting, letting go of self-interests and learning to love unconditionally. Loving my children has made me a better person. The love of my parents who loved all that I was brought out the best in me.

What I want most for those I love is that they each love themselves the way I love them: that they accept themselves and their lives just as they are, forgive themselves, let go of what they do not need, let go of what holds them back, see the beauty that I see in them, and share their gifts with the world.

Loving your life as it has unfolded is a challenge. There are events and experiences that are unpleasant, regretful and overwhelming: misfortune and trauma, negative situations, difficult relationships, harm we have experienced, harm that we have done, missed opportunities, words left unsaid and acts left undone.

We have all made mistakes, taken wrong turns and experience regret. We have all felt angry, selfish, cold or closed.

We experience aversion with strong emotions – fear, anger, despair – that are hard to accept, acknowledge and release. We may wish to relive happier times, erase negative experiences and correct our mistakes.

But the only way to live life fully is to live fully in the present – to acknowledge and accept all that has happened, all that we’ve done and all that we are – in order to be present to each arising moment.

To turn away, hide or fight against our nature and the reality of our world is to give greater power to the very things we push away. They continue to hold us back from fully loving, fully living and finding our true selves.

We can choose to let go, and we are freed to see more clearly: to see beauty, to love unconditionally our selves, others and our lives.

We are all human and imperfect but still deserving of love, beautiful and able to love.

What I can do in my thoughts, words and actions to benefit another – or to benefit the world – benefits me.

What I can do to nurture my soul nurtures the world.

Davidicus Wong

Categories
Coping with Loss Letting Go Relationships

Being Present

7 Mantras (Davidicus Wong)
7 Mantras (Davidicus Wong)

One of my favourite TV shows from the 90s was Quantum Leap. Scott Bakula played Dr. Sam Beckett. In each episode, he would find himself somewhere back in time in someone else’s body and he would have to solve some problem in that person’s life. It was like a cross between reincarnation and speed dating.

My favourite episode was when he found himself back in his own body as a 12-year-old boy. He was back on the family farm at Thanksgiving time just before his brother was to go to Vietnam where he would die and before his father’s heart attack.

Knowing the future, he did everything he could to try to change it but no one would listen to a 12-year-old boy. When he was feeling really helpless about his situation, his friend told him, “I would give anything to go back in time and enjoy one more Thanksgiving dinner with my family.” Sam was able to step back and enjoy the precious time with his family.

Our present moments so quickly become the memories that we treasure or miss. The trick in life is to hold onto that awareness, to be fully present and fully alive to the ever changing beauty and wonder right in front of us, to see this precious present with that perspective from the future. From your soul’s perspective, we really can make time stand still and live eternity in a moment.

I loved Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas and birthday dinners lovingly made by my mom. I loved helping her out in the kitchen, setting the table and cleaning up. I loved sitting around the table talking and eating with my parents, my brother and my sister.

Long before my mom’s unexpected passing, I had a deeper understanding that these moments – the everyday time we spend with our loved ones – are fleeting and precious so I had better pay attention and enjoy them.

I’m glad I did. Though I wasn’t consciously prepared for losing my mom, I am happy that I had lived as if each moment might be the last I might spend with the people that I cared about. Those moments remain touch points to eternity. I can remember and relive them as if they continued to exist.

This perspective continues to inform how I live each day, and I am not saddened with another Thanksgiving without my mom because I always feel her close to me and I feel how my life continues to be enriched by the past.

Categories
Balance Growth Happiness Healthy Living Parenting Physical Activity Positive Potential Preventive Health Procrastination Relationships stress management Your Goals

Can you really balance your life? 3 keys.

When you look back on your life when you have retired, on the closing stretch or with your last breaths, will you ask what you have done with your time?

What will be the measure of this life?

Your net worth? The vehicles you drove? The number of good meals and drinks you enjoyed? Your total number of facebook friends? Your twitter followers? Every movie you watched? The TV series you followed? The value of your watches and rings? The clothes you wore? Whatever else you may have collected? All the material things you wanted and needed, finally bought and eventually threw away?

Chances are you will no longer find value in any of these. Your thoughts will turn to that which had deeper and more enduring meaning to you.

Ironically, throughout the greater part of our lives, our thought, energy and time are consumed with many of the items on the dubious list above. We do this at the cost of what we value most.

We recognize this late in the day, when we have worked long hours or spent too much time online, and the kids are asleep . . . or grown up. We see it at times of crisis, when our lives are out of balance and we have neglected our health, our beliefs or our relationships.

How do we make time for what really counts in our lives? Is it possible to live a balanced life?

Here are three keys to balancing your life.

1. Take time to reflect. If we don’t make time to consider our priorities, we drift away from them. The demands of work, our current preoccupations or the crisis of the moment distract us from committing time to the other important areas of our life. Reflecting allows you to check your compass and bearings and redirect your direction.

2. Balance your week. Look at how you allocate time for the important areas of your life. Throughout the week, I think about the most important areas of my life, including my family, work, friends, emotional wellbeing and physical health.

What challenges do you have in each area? How can you best use your time?

There are times in our life when free time is scarce. We may have to work overtime, study for exams or juggle childcare with housekeeping. At any time in our lives, we have to recognize where we have the freedom of choice. Are you choosing to spend time where it is most needed and valued?

We tend to put off ‘til the weekend important things we ultimately fail to do. This might include clearing the clutter, taking out the trash, balancing the budget or spending more time with the people you love.

3. Balance each day. When we’re busy, we may not take the time to exercise, get enough sleep or eat proper meals, but these are crucial to your wellbeing. By scheduling them into your day, you won’t neglect them. These are the habits of health.

Maintaining a healthy balance in life doesn’t come naturally. It is a dynamic process that requires the daily intention to give priority to what matters most. By staying on course, you’ll find greater satisfaction with your journey through life.

At the end of the day, we’ll judge ourselves by how we spent our time.

Cousins hiking in Banff - Davidicus Wong
Cousins hiking in Banff – Davidicus Wong
Categories
Caregiving Christmas Coping with Loss Friendship Parenting Relationships Uncategorized

Celebrating Families

On every Boxing Day as far back as I can remember, my maternal aunts, uncles and cousins have gathered not just to celebrate Christmas but also family. This year was the first time my dear Auntie Marj wasn’t there.

She passed away on January 5th after living a full life as a wife, mother, sister, aunt and grandmother. Like my mother, she leaves behind a legacy of love that began in childhood and continues in future generations.

When my mom was 9, her widowed mother died, leaving all nine children orphaned. The older siblings, including Aunt Marj, Mamie and Hazel decided not to abandon the younger ones who would likely have been moved to orphanages.

In everyday acts of courage and love, all the brothers and sisters were clothed, fed and educated. They had committed their lives to looking after one another. I believe my aunts were my mom’s best friends.

That’s why my mom always told us of the importance of family. She would remind me as a teen more interested in going out with friends. “Your friends may come and go,” she said, “but this family will always be here for you.”

She was right of course.

As we celebrate our province’s first Family Day on February 11th, we have to recognize that families come in many forms. We have single parents, same sex parents, adoptive parents and blended families. We have couples married or not married some with pets but without children.

I consider them all families when two or more people come together in love and create a home. It is in our family relationships that we learn to love, accept one another, give and receive graciously.

Families are as imperfect as we all are, and I know of many who have grown up with conflict, neglect or abuse. Difficult childhood experiences shape our sense of self-worth and influence our future relationships. With courage and assistance, some have overcome their difficult beginnings and created more meaningful relationships and homes in adulthood.

Instead of treating this first Family Day as just a new statutory holiday, reflect on your own family of origin and your family today. Think about those you know who do not have families, and if you think you are without a family, remember the friends who love you.

Wherever you are loved and feel at home, there is your family.

Categories
Caregiving Compassion Friendship Love Parenting patient-doctor relationship Relationships

Appreciating Your Life

Soon after their births, my first thoughts on holding each of my children: “Thank you for this precious life.”

It remains at the core of my thoughts, grounding and shaping my actions, as a father, a husband, a friend and a physician. In the living of life and in the practice of medicine, I have witnessed and experienced the fragility of health and life, the fleeting nature of its blessings, pain and suffering. Knowing that we are mortal, each of our lives is all the more precious.

In caring for patients, I share the joys and tragedies of every patient’s life. I am privileged to participate in the births of newborns, to be the first to hold them and give thanks. I share in my patients’ lessons in life and witness their growth through challenge and adversity.

I marvel at the capacity of the body to heal itself, and I am inspired by the resilience of the human spirit.

Each life is a precious gift, and I remember this with my encounter with every patient. To be engaged in the care of their health is a privilege and responsibility.

But we each share a responsibility for one another as if we were one great family. It is a duty easily forgotten.

Most of us approach each day as if we will live forever. It is preferable to living in fear. I have counselled patients who were so consumed with the anxiety of losing loved ones that they failed to appreciate the time they had together. When their loved ones were gone, they realized how much more they had lost.

Some dads don’t take the time to enjoy family time when their children are young. They soon discover that toddlers too quickly become teens and adults, and that time has been lost forever.

We each have a capacity to harm one another. Fortunately, most of our daily sins are of omission and neglect. We take the people in our lives for granted – not only family and friends but also the people we meet each day. We do not seize every opportunity to be helpful and to give what is most needed. We fail to connect.

Your life is a rare and unique gift . . . but not one to keep for yourself. Don’t waste your life, talents and time on the trivial. Don’t get lost on the wrong paths – the fast lane of materialism, the slow, meandering road of mindlessness, or the lonely highway of narcissism and self-interest.

We are meant to travel together. We are dependent on others and they upon us. We are carried and we carry others. We can inspire and be inspired. We are better together, and together we can travel deeper and farther, discovering places in the world and in ourselves that would otherwise remain unknown.

Before you rise in the morning, consider a prayer of appreciation: “Thank you for this precious life.”

Categories
Happiness Love Relationships

Recognizing What’s Right in Your Life

Before we even consider a New Year’s resolution, let’s take stock of what’s going great in our lives.

Family
Few of us come from the perfect families like the classic sitcoms, “Leave It to Beaver” and “The Brady Bunch.” Most of us didn’t have a “Pa” like Laura Ingals in “The Little House on the Prairie.”

But when we compare ourselves to the ridiculously dysfunctional families on TV today, our own families don’t seem so bad. Though none of us is perfect and we all have our differences, I’m thankful for my family today. I appreciated my mom when I had her in my life, and I’m grateful for the legacy of love that she left us.

But since losing my mom, I recognize how precarious life is and never take for granted my children, my wife and the rest of my family.

Friends
And who do you talk to when you need a break from your family? Your friends, of course.

Love
Love comes in many forms but its purest form is unconditional love – and most of us get this from our family and friends.

Where else do you find comfort?
The love of family and friends can make our lives more livable. Who are your best friends? Who brings out those warm, fuzzy feelings?

Life gives us other inexpensive, harmless pleasures: hugs and kisses, a warm coat on a cold winter day, a shared meal, a hot chocolate, a cup of herbal tea, the warmth of the sun, the sound of rain and the silence of snow.

Categories
Caregiving Compassion Coping with Loss Forgiveness Grace Growth Positive Potential Purpose Relationships

Weaving Together the Tapestry of Our Lives

If your life was a straight line – beginning on the day of your birth and ending with your last day on earth and if it were nothing more than the inevitable aging of your body from infancy through childhood and adolescence with the progressive decline throughout adulthood to senescence, then your future would seem bleak and your efforts meaningless.

If you define yourself by your looks, your accomplishments, your possessions and your work, all is futile – for your youth will fade, your accomplishments will be forgotten, your possessions lost, and you yourself retired.

The randomness of illness and accident stymies our best plans. The challenges of chronic and acute disease can seem overwhelming.

But you are more than your body, and your life is more than a single thread on a straight line.

Your life crosses the lives of many others and most significantly it is intimately entwined with the lives of the special few: your deepest friends and your family. Together we weave a tapestry, and it can tell our life stories with the richness of many perspectives.

We define ourselves through our relationships, and in our relationships, there continues to be the potential for further growth at every age. A long-married couple can still grow together as they give, forgive and grow deeper in love. Aging or disabled parents can be supported and cared for by the adult children they once nurtured.

Being the caregiver – a child, a spouse or friend – of an aging or disabled adult is one of life’s greatest challenges. It requires mutual grace: the acceptance of care and the evolution of your changing roles, the acknowledgment of conflicting emotions, and the resolve of continued caring.

Being the caregivers for aging parents who are no longer at their physical, emotional or cognitive best can be more challenging than parenting our own children. We have to see the whole person in our arms – like the infants we once rocked to sleep.

We have to see the present in the context of our loved one’s entire life, and our new relationship within the backdrop of our relationship over a lifetime – the tapestry we weave together.

This Friday, October 21st at 7 pm, I will be giving a free presentation at the Norman Rothstein Theatre at 950 West 41st Avenue (at Oak Street) in Vancouver. My topic, “The Positive Potential of Caregiving: Surviving, Thriving and Finding Meaning” is part of the Tapestry Foundation for Health Care’s Dialogue on Aging Public Presentation Series. For more information contact www.tapestryfoundation.ca or by phone 604-877-8335.

Categories
Happiness

A Hundred Days To Happiness: A Flood Of Memories

Tsunamis and earthquakes make the headlines and our hearts and prayers reach out to the people of Japan.

Yet private disasters happen every day and sooner or later to all of us.

Every week, I see patients with life-changing injuries, serious traffic accidents and emotional trauma. An individual’s life can be put on hold coping with the overwhelming.

This week with our deluge of rain, my friend’s basement was flooded. She still had to go to work, wondering about the damage to her home and the antique family furniture that she wasn’t able to move.

This triggered my earliest childhood memories of a flood in my family’s Mount Pleasant home. I was only four, my sister two. We sat in the kitchen eating freshly baked and buttered bread that I can still smell and taste today.

I never knew the extent of the damage but I know my mom’s treasured photo albums were irreparably damaged. Forever lost were her personal photos of friends and family, including her sister, mom and dad who all died during her own childhood – another loss among a history of greater heartbreaking losses.

I remember all my aunts and uncles who came without hesitation to help out my parents, moving our furniture and valuables out of the basement and carrying away buckets of water.

What my mom told me was true. I remember her saying when I was a teen, “Your friends and girlfriends may seem more important to you now, but value your family. This family will always be here for you and will never abandon you.”

An exercise in happiness:  When confronting the major and minor disasters of life, look for and accept the grace that may come with them. Appreciate what matters most and that which endures.

While accepting tragedy, loss and disasters, we accept also the grace of family and friends.

When others need help, be the grace in their lives.