That was then…

Laughing with my son today I could not help but notice as the light caught a faint scar on his shoulder. It is so faded now that no-one else will ever notice it. I do, and it breaks my heart and fills me with joy in equal measure.

The scar was where the various tubes were sewn into his flesh as he lay in the coma. There were others, more dreadful, more horrifying, but for some reason this was the one that caught at my heart and broke it. It was through these tubes that they had pumped in the drugs that held him in stasis, that protected him as much as possible while withholding him from life. They came to symbolise the possible permanence of his state of being, poised between hope and despair, caught between life and death, with both, at that point, sustained and denied artificially.

I seldom notice the scar these days, but when I do I am taken back to that time and the conflict of hope and desperation that seemed to tear me in half. Such words say little… they are over used and trite. The emotion was raw and vicious, feeling physically as though a clawed hand held my heart and was ripping it slowly in pieces.

As I write I can feel an echo of that pain in my chest, somewhere beyond tears. I will not forget that rending, that feeling of being dragged between the polar opposites of willing his recovery and hoping for him to be allowed to die in peace if that end were to be inevitable.

Survival would not be enough for him: he would need more than that. I would have settled for him opening his eyes and holding my hand as I sang the childhood lullabies and told him over and over how much he was loved. How very much. And because of that, I told him over and over that it was okay. If he came back it would be to love and care. If not, he could go if he needed to go, taking my love and blessing with him.

That pain was long ago and survives now only in memory. It is past, not present and has taken its place as part of the foundation of today. Something upon which to build. So why do I write of this time again? Well, I was thinking as we laughed together, acutely aware of the joy of being able to do so.

Back then, I was powerless to help. All I could do was wait and pray. Talk to him, hold his hand, just be there and hope he knew. I stood, day after day, beside the immobile body that was at once the child of my flesh who had grown beneath my heart and yet was not, in some indefinable way, my son. He was more than that tortured flesh. Somewhere the essence of my son was both learning and teaching through the plight of his body.

We cannot know, nor can machines tell us, what that elusive part of us is that holds the essence of who we are. There is something more than just the body and the brain. The flesh is, I believe, the vehicle with which the soul moves through this life. The brain perhaps the exchange where the Self and the physical vehicle communicate. As with anything else, when you break the vehicle beyond repair, it ceases to function. If the exchange goes down there is no means of communication between the two parts of being.

It does not mean the messages cease, only that they cannot get through.

None of this can be proved, but I had always believed it. But there was one day, one heart aching day, when things changed. My son was just as immobile, just as far away as he had been since the attack. There was no difference in the readings on the life support machine. He was incapable of blinking as much as an eyelid, still unconscious.

Up till this day, in spite of the apparent lifelessness, there had been an indefinable sense that he was fighting back, a desperate yearning on his part to find a way through to us. A completely improvable, unmeasurable thing, yet it was something we had all felt.

Yet on this one day he withdrew. I cannot put it clearer than that. The presence that was my son drew back from the body and the husk that remained was empty. The nurse who sat at the end of his bed felt it too. It is a common thing among nurses to sense when the end is near. She warned us gently. There was a peace about him, as if he had stopped fighting what was to come.

Although he was expected to die, I was not so sure. It felt as if he had withdrawn to regroup, to seek a peaceful place where he could take a deep breath and take stock. Make a choice. And the next day he began, beyond all hope and reason, to improve. When my son came back, it was with sleeves rolled up and a determination to make things happen.

There is a lesson in this, I think. We fight so hard against life and the events it can pile upon us, lose ourselves in worry, panic about the inevitable or the possible. We forget sometimes that there are things we can change and things we cannot. Those we can change may need a clear mind in order for us to act. Those we cannot alter, we can at least meet face on, toe to toe… and this too requires a mind free of the fog of fear.

There is a moment where we can stop fighting all the ‘what ifs’ and accept gracefully that things will come if and as they must, perhaps in order for us to be able to learn and grow, perhaps in order for us to understand enough to teach by who we can become. By taking ourselves out of the mire of fear and finding a clear, calm place above it, we can see a wider picture of cause and effect, of possibility.

To accept and embrace what comes is not simply to be a victim of fate or circumstance. It takes a certain kind of courage to face and deal with things that have held us in thrall to fear. And it is a courage we can all find within ourselves. There is a belief that we are never sent more than we can handle. Just more than we think we can. We do not have to wait for the drama of unusual events to measure our courage against our fears. It can be as small as a mouse or a spider, or as daunting as that pile of bills. At the deepest level, the only thing we have to face is ourselves. Yet there is the seed of a greatness of soul in every single one of us, if we give it chance to grow in the clear light of the sun.

59 thoughts on “That was then…

  1. There is a belief that we are never sent more than we can handle. Just more than we think we can. – wonderful words, Sue. I can still clearly remember sitting in the hospital numerous times with both of my sons. With Gregory particularly, when everything seemed very dark, I would get courage and hope from the other mothers who were keeping the same visual that I was. Love to you both.

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  2. “There is a moment where we can stop fighting all the ‘what ifs’ and accept gracefully that things will come if and as they must…” —I read every word of this moving post. Then I read it again. Meeting the moment with grace is an incredible life lesson. Thanks for a class from a master.

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      1. Though not easy, opening up ones heart through sharing ones thoughts in writing and talking takes courage; and, at times, can make the path easier to tread and follow. Stay steadfast and take great care of yourself. Best Regards.

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  3. Another beautiful post Sue. And accepting the moment for what it is, however painful it may be, is as you say, far from acting as a victim of fate or circumstance. It’s simply the acknowledgement of the truth of that moment. Only if we acknowledge that truth for what it is, rather than for what we’d like it to be, can we deal effectively with it. It’s like knitting and the ball of wool drops to the floor. The cat grabs it, knocks it all around the room and it ends up in a massive tangle under the sideboard. If you want to go on knitting, the first thing you have to do is accept that you’re not going to able to – at least for for a while. Having accepted that, and only then, can you calmly study the mess and start carefully, systematically unravelling it.

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      1. Thank you Sue. Dear old Ladybird books! But re the acceptance of the moment – Krishnamurti, perhaps the most well-respected and influential of modern spiritual teachers, once, when speaking to some huge audience in the West, offered to impart to them the secret of his acknowledged ability to live life absolutely without fear, without anxiety, without stress. Hearing this apparently gold-plated offer, they all perked up and listened, agog. He looked around at them all and said, very simply, “I never mind what happens.” And that was it. I’m sure many of them thought they’d been led up the garden. But its simplicity is very deceptive – it and it’s implication for the every day life of all of us is profound.

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        1. I doubt if you can better that attitude. We cannot change what has or is happening… only shape what might come in some uncertain future. Accepting what is seem the only way to work with it instead of fighting against it.

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          1. It’s hard and it grates with the notions of challenge, bravery, success with which we’ve all been brought up and conditioned. But the fact is inescapable – fight what is and you beat your head against a brick wall. The only person that gets hurt is yourself – and maybe those around you too.

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              1. You’re probably right, but I didn’t express that properly. I didn’t want to imply that whatever happens to you you should just sit back and let it happen. What I should have said was yes, try and change a painful situation by whatever means possible, if you can. However before you can change anything, you have to completely accept the reality of what it is you’re trying to change. That sounds a no-brainer, but it quite often happens that we so don’t want what’s actually happening to happen that we somehow convince ourselves either that it isn’t happening in quite such an unpleasant way – or even that it’s not happening at all.

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                1. Oh, I understood that, Jeff. And I have seen at close quarters how difficult it can be to embrace that acceptance. My current situation, for example, is far easier for me to accept than it is for some of those around me. There is no changing what is… only what might happen next.

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                  1. Your writings Sue, of your present situation, bear ample witness to your extraordinary ability to accept the reality of what is. I think it fair to say that few share that ability. Your last line above is an excellent summing up of this.

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  4. A moving post, Sue. I’ve felt that shredding of the heart, and the receding of a soul, as well as its return. You describe the numinous nature of life so beautifully. I love it that you and Nick laugh together. What a blessing.

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  5. Wonderful post Sue, and I am with you on the belief that we are not sent more than we can handle, just perhaps more than we think we can.
    Hubby says he saw an inner strength in me the first night we met. I never considered myself strong, more of a doer and coper, but with my surgery last year I found the strength he saw that I didn’t realise I had. I do know one thing though……… I would not have come through it the way I did without him by my side.
    Positivity, faith, love and hope is what keeps us going. ❤

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