I don’t want much out of life anymore…just serenity. At one point I wanted things, lots of them. A beautiful home furnished with beautiful furniture, paintings, and flowers. I wanted beautiful clothes to keep me warm and comfortable, or cool and elegant. I wanted to love and be loved by my pets and friends, family and students. I wanted to enjoy success and accomplishment, creativity and the expansion of my career. The possibilities seemed endless, just like life. The more I enjoyed what I had, the more I wanted.
Yet there was always something missing and I knew it. An emptiness inside me that never went away… through years of meditation, yoga, healthy eating, self reflection, Jungian analysis, Freudian analysis, writing and the practice of healing. I had success in my career, books published, TV and radio interviews, workshops to lead, interesting people to meet and travel all over the world. It wasn’t enough. I wanted to help save the world from suffering, and it was hard to realize that dream was going to be limited by being human. I just couldn’t accomplish as much I wanted.
As I focused on my career, my mother became seriously ill and almost died. She was hospitalized while I was in London visiting a former student with the intention of arranging workshops there. I was on the phone to the hospital every day. She was being well cared for and out of danger, so I stayed in London the full ten days. When I returned and visited her, two of the nurses took me aside at the desk and told me she couldn’t live alone anymore. She had fallen, been knocked unconscious, and was on the floor for over 24 hours. Her dinner, still on the stove, had almost burned down the kitchen and the police and fire department had to rescue her and put out the fire.
My mother was a strong woman, defiant when afraid, and had once warned me never to think of displacing her from the home she had been in for fifty years. If anyone had to tell her she couldn’t live alone anymore, she wouldn’t accept it from me. She needed nursing care when she got out of the hospital, and I made a quick decision to bring her up to Litchfield, CT, where I was living at the time. I knew if she went to a facility in NJ, the opportunity would be lost. I told her that I was temporarily going to bring her up to CT where I could visit her every day, and where she would be under my own doctor’s care at the nursing care facility in the middle of town. She wanted to know, of course, when she could go home. As soon as she was well enough was always my answer.
The nursing care and physical therapy she received was excellent and she enjoyed the attention, something she had been deprived of for a long time. She had people to talk with, stories to share with her roommate, a communal room she could visit for meeting additional friends. She liked my doctor, now hers, and after three weeks she seemed to trust him. I discussed the situation with him and he agreed with the nurses at the other hospital. He also agreed to tell her that she couldn’t go home again to live alone.
I sat by her side while he told her. She seem stunned, speechless. She didn’t argue with him, as she would have with me, but I could tell it would take her awhile to process the idea. Several days later she asked if I would take her down to see her home again. I told her I would, but I was actually a bit concerned that I would have a hard time getting her to come back to CT if I did. What if she broke down? What if she refused to leave the house? I had all kinds of scenarios going through my mind, but I knew I had to respect her wishes.
We drove down one morning in my car. She was quiet during the ride and so was I. When we arrived, I unlocked the door and we walked into the house. She slowly walked through each room in silence, as though remembering everything that had ever happened there over the course of fifty years.
When she was finished, she spoke: “I guess fifty years is enough. I’m ready to leave.” I was moved by the simplicity and power of her decision. I didn’t expect it. She had reconciled within herself something so monumental that I found a new respect for her in that moment. I asked her what she would like me to move up to CT when she went into assisted living. She pointed out some furniture and clothes, paintings, books and other decorative items. I made a list. And then we left, and drove back to the nursing facility in Litchfield.
That was the beginning of an extended period of time during which my priorities in life changed completely. I cut back on most of my travel and many of my workshop commitments. I stopped writing. I stopped trying the save the world and focused on making the last years of my mother’s life as comfortable as possible. I sold her house, disposed of unnecessary possessions, moved what she liked up to her new assisted living apartment, and took over her finances and paperwork. I visited her daily for the first two months, and weekly after that for three years. I made sure her medications were managed properly, and that she had round the clock care when she developed a life threatening infection. She had to be hospitalized every few months during those years, and I canceled work obligations to be by her side. I gave her the kind of attention and care she gave me as a child, and I have never regretted it. She was happier during those last three years than I had ever seen her during my lifetime.
I was able to accomplish, for my mother, everything I set out to accomplish. At the time it felt like an enormous sacrifice to confine myself to a small private practice in a small country town and give up everything else I had worked to achieve. But I knew it was the right thing to do. If I can’t be there for those I love, what is the point of trying to heal the world? During those three years my beloved dog and three of my cats died. At the end of her life my mother was ninety one and a half. She died Mother’s Day weekend.
During the past five years I have devoted myself to rearranging my life to heal myself. I sold my house, downsized and moved several times, gave up many of my possessions and ambitions. I want a simple life of love, healing and peace. It’s no longer about saving the world from suffering. It’s about saving myself.