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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
Coping with Loss Emotions Grace Happiness Letting Go Love Parenting Positive Change Purpose Relationships Wisdom

#5 Grief, loss and appreciation of the gifts

blank sand beach

So much of our unhappiness comes from (1) fear of losing what we have – our cherished possessions, our jobs, our reputations, our relationships, our homes and our loved ones, (2) grief with the loss of health, abilities, relationships and loved ones, and (3) dissatisfaction with not having what we want or need.

When my mother died suddenly nearly eight years ago, everything in my life changed.  It felt as if all was lost.  Many times since, I have counseled others who have lost loved ones.

How can we ever remedy what is lost and which cannot be regained?  Where there is life there is hope, but when a life ends, where is hope?  How can we regain happiness in the present when happiness, remains in our memories in the past?  All life thereafter which would seem good and beautiful and happy can only be bittersweet.

But what is our life but change?  We are born, we live and love in the eternal summers of childhood, we relate, worry, agonize as we grow and mature, we make a place for ourselves in the world, we age and wear down, we fade or we end unexpectedly.

What of us and our lives endures? Memories that eventually fade and die as those we have known also pass away or forget?  Foot prints and castles in the sand which once were real and seemingly solid but will inevitably be blown by the winds and washed by the waves?

Life is a gift, but it is not a possession to hold and grasp forever.  It is to be appreciated, cherished and shared while we have it.  We are but custodians of the gift, of the many gifts in our lives – blessings, good fortune, opportunities and challenges, and relationships. 

People, all special and unique step into our lives for a time.  We can be open – smile and talk, listen and learn, help and share.  Opportunities will arise and they will pass.  Or we can walk on by, miss opportunities to make a connection, to forge meaning, to make a positive difference in another’s life, to enrich our daily lives and the daily lives of others.

Take life and its precious gifts, be open to others, to their beauty and the beauty of all life, cherish the blessings of the day but let go when the time has passed, when life moves on, when loved ones and old friends leave. 

We cannot hold back our beautiful children from growing and maturing and discovering their true selves and new worlds.  Our parents cannot live forever no matter how much we want to hold them near.  They are all gifts we may hold and enjoy for a time.  Appreciate and cherish them with loving care and an understanding that they are only ours for a brief span of time.  We ought to feel grateful for at least that brief span.

Ready to take a fresh look at life, question self-limiting beliefs and discover enduring happiness? Join me in “A Hundred Days to Happiness.”

Since February 1st, I’ve been sharing insights I’ve learned from my patients, friends and family. Each day, I will post one new insight on facebook.com/davidicus.wong, twitter.com/DrDavidicusWong and my blog, davidicuswong.wordpress.com.

Categories
Coping with Loss Emotions Grace Growth Happiness Letting Go Love Positive Change Positive Potential Relationships Wisdom

Everything changes . . . so let’s stop denying it!

Caribbean Sky by Davidicus Wong

Shunryu Suzuki-roshi when asked to express the heart of Buddhism in a few words replied, “Everything changes.”

That’s an apt description of our lives.

That change is generally a positive thing for children. They continue to grow and learn something new every day. Their future holds newness and promise. They look forward to new opportunities and abilities.

Remember when you were a child and you beamed when someone noticed the changes in you? “My how you’ve grown!”

As our lives progress, change can become a source of misery. Relationships change and end. Friends move away. Loved ones die. We lose our jobs and sometimes our dreams.

We have accidents and suffer illness. We experience pain or lose abilities we took for granted.

Our bodies change – due to age, overuse, sunshine and gravity.

And we certainly don’t beam if someone else notices the changes in us. Who wants to hear, “My how big you’ve become!” or “Didn’t you have more hair the last time I saw you?”

Though we all can grasp the concept that everything – including our bodies – changes, we get by day to day by ignoring it. For a time, the denial of change keeps us from worrying about it.

That denial can be so powerful that it can create the delusion of permanence. We expect to stay young and don’t put a thought towards future disability or death. We assume our friends and loved ones will always be with us and our relationships will stay the same.

When we notice the telltale signs of aging (sometime after age 30), many of us struggle to maintain our youth or at least the appearance of it. Cosmetic medicine has flourished over the past decade partly because of Botox, fillers and lasers but largely due to society’s emphasis on youth.

Sometimes the changes in life are completely unexpected and catastrophic. Through accident or illness, we can lose our loved ones or we can become disabled. When this happens, we struggle to make sense of our lives and to start over again.

We can never be fully prepared for the disasters in life. Yet we can value the people in our lives even more by realizing that we are all mortal. This makes each of our lives and our relationships all the more precious, and it can enhance how we relate.

If this was your last day with someone you love, would you be less critical and more caring? What would you say? Would you behave differently?

Change is inevitable. Accidents happen. We can become ill. We are all aging. Each of us will die.

Let us accept these cold hard truths, and live accordingly.

Change is inevitable, but we can continue to learn and to grow.

Change is inevitable, but we can all be agents of positive change – with our health, in our relationships and through our community.

Next: Becoming an agent of positive change. 

Caribbean Sunset by Davidicus Wong

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.

Image

Image

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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Coping with Loss Relationships

Confronting Our Mortality

Death informs life.

It can give us a perspective on our lives – and our relationships – that can lift us from the complacency of our common days.

It can give us urgency to do what we’ve always wanted to do and say what needs to be said: admitting our mistakes, forgiving others theirs, expressing appreciation and love. We can attend to what matters most when we anticipate the end of our own lives or the life of one we love. With this urgency, it can feel that we had wasted our precious time with not enough left ahead.

When death is unexpected, it is too late. Most often we leave much undone and unsaid. We wait too long to have those crucial conversations. We may be by nature quick to anger but slow to forgive. We may be even slower to apologize.

Yet we all know that our days are numbered though we live as if they will go on forever. It is our nature to get caught up in the business of living – pursuing what seems more important at the time. But when we recognize that our time with those we love is limited, we realize our relationships matter most.

Next: Finding comfort from loss.

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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.

Categories
Coping with Loss Growth Happiness Letting Go Love Relationships

A Hundred Days To Happiness: Regaining Happiness After Loss

“April is the cruelest month, ” said T.S. Eliot in The Wasteland.

Indeed it is a bittersweet month for me.

In early spring, cheery blossoms bloom from the dormant gloom of winter. April brings the tradition and symbolism of Easter – rebirth from death. Each day, the sun rises earlier and sets later, promising fuller brighter days.

In younger days, this brought the promise of fuller, happier days, continuous growth and boundless potential. Life just got better and better. My life continued happily until one weekend in April 2003.

I had a wonderful family with three great kids, I enjoyed fulfilling work as a family physician and I had great relationships with my parents. Life was close to perfect, until I received a call from my sister. Our previously healthy mom suddenly collapsed and died during an exercise class at the community centre. She received immediate CPR but she could not be revived.

Life is never the same after losing a parent even as an adult. For the first time, the person who knew me best and loved me unconditionally and who from the moment of my birth had always been an integral part of my life was no longer alive.

Nothing had ever seemed so startling, unbelievable and irreversible than this.

Gone were the expectations of my mother seeing my daughter and sons grow up, sharing their achievements and their joys, and sharing her abundant love, kindness and wisdom. A whole future of positive possibilities collapsed in a moment.

Life would never be the same. Life would never be perfect.

Eventually, it was possible to be happy again. I would remember my mom’s gentle words, generous spirit and kind acts and know that they made a difference – a positive impact on others and in my life. My daughter though not quite four remembered baking, shopping and playing with my mom. My sons remembered her warmth and care.

And I would find happiness giving forward to my children – and to others in my life – the love and kindness my mother so generously gave to me.

Happiness can be regained in acts of grace. I graciously accept the gift of my mom’s life and the love she gave. I graciously accept that our greatest gifts are not ours to hold forever – but to appreciate, let go and give forward in the cycles of life and nature.

We are connected through our memories and losses, suffering and joy, and in the love we accept and give forward. We can enjoy happiness, give it to others and give it back to the world.

Categories
Coping with Loss Love Purpose Your Calling

A Hundred Days To Happiness: Together We’re Stronger

During one week in 2009, Elise Niessen lost both her grandparents.

On the sad day of their funeral, Elise found joy and then inspiration when she met her cousin’s four-month-old daughter, Lilli, who was facing daunting challenges herself. Lilli was born at 34 weeks of pregnancy and still required surgery to repair persistent connections between the chambers of her heart.

Elise saw the opportunity to create hope and happiness in sad and challenging circumstances. She raised over $5000 for the B.C. Children’s Hospital neonatal ICU by swimming continuously for four hours on August 13th, 2010.

In November of 2000, Ruth Greenhalgh lost her 20-year-old brother, Oliver to acute myeloid leukemia. In his memory, she decided to do the UBC Olympic Triathlon with Elise to raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society.

Ruth and Elise successfully swam, cycled and ran to the finish line on Sunday, March 6th.

We can be defeated and demoralized by the tragedies and challenges of life, or we can find meaning in adversity, strength in community, and inspiration in one another.

Our losses can connect us to others and their losses. Our challenges connect us to others and their challenges. Together, we can accomplish more than we can alone. Sharing our strengths and combining our passion, we can all be stronger.

If you’d like to join Ruth and Elise in supporting the Canadian Cancer Society, check their facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=188011307883885 or their fundraising event page at http://bit.ly/gfnw50.

To support the relief and rescue efforts in Japan, check the Canadian Red Cross’ web site at http://www.redcross.ca.

Your happiness exercise for today: I worked through the unexpected loss of my mother in 2003 by committing myself to what I saw as my mom’s legacy, giving forward the love she gave to me, her family, her friends and community.

If you or someone you know has suffered a great loss or is confronting difficult challenges, connect with others and create something meaningful.