This is not going to be an easy or fun blog post. It's not going to give you an easy solution to something or tell a funny story. It's more about me, and for me. I have this platform and sometimes I'm allowed to use it for selfish reasons, and this one of those times. However, I hope my personal and somewhat raw story will bring you some sort of insight into how to deal with tough situations in your life.
My father had a nervous breakdown.
About a year and a half ago he went through a period of psychosis which has now progressed into very severe depression.
Obviously, this has been difficult for me and my family. My father was an engaging and entertaining guy. He is passionate, to the point of obsession (a quality I proudly mirror). He is an amazingly supportive and generous father and husband. A gentle and sensitive soul.
Therefore, seeing him in so much pain, struggling to maintain sanity, and never getting any respite or even just a brief moment of comfort, makes me hurt. It makes me want so badly to take it all away. To fix it. He would do it for me. He has done it for me, many times.
However, in the same moment, I realize this experience, for me, has been a blessing.
I've been softened. I've been cracked open. My heart has broken and is slowly being made anew; bigger, more expansive, and more accepting. I'm so much more acutely aware of the fact that we have no idea what other people are going through. I see the world with more love in my eyes.
I also am slowly recognizing that by constantly trying to "fix" this situation for my mom, for my dad, and for my sister, I'm not allowing my dad to have his experience. Who am I to say that he shouldn't be able to experience what he is experiencing? Who am I to say this isn't going to break him open and grow his heart anew in a way that is necessary for his soul?
If I'm trying to fix him and the situation I don't have to deal with it as it is now. And that's about me and my discomfort, not his.
We can make ourselves available for people we love that are struggling. We can give them our time, our presence, our ideas, solutions, knowledge, resources, but in the end, they have to want the change for themselves. At some point, they must participate in their own healing.
Before then, the best thing we can do is be a witness and assure them, we don't know what's going on here either. We love them and respect them and know that their experience is their own. Let them know that we don't need them to change.
My father is coming to stay with us for the month of November and I've rolled around and around in my brain, how to embody this philosophy. I've asked myself how I can respect his experience as a soul on a journey, and be a witness for him in this difficult path he's on.
I've adapted the passage below from Glennon Doyle Melton's book Love Warrior. I've created a vow to my father that I am solemnly swearing in front of all of you, in hope that I can return to it when I feel pulled to deny his pain. When I feel like I need to move away from it when it's too much for me, I can instead hold fast in my vow to be his witness, to allow him to experience the pain, struggle, and in the same way allow myself to experience mine.
"I'll show up and stay humble in the face of my father's pain. I'll admit I'm as empty handed, dumbstruck, and out of ideas as he is. I won't try to make sense of things or require more than he can offer.
I won't let my discomfort with his pain keep me from witnessing it for him. I'll never try to grab or fix his pain because I know that for as long as it takes, his pain will also be his comfort. It will be all he has left.
Grief is love's souvenir. It's proof that we once loved.
Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world, Look! Love was once mine. I loved well. Here is my proof I paid the price. So I'll just show up and practice not being perfect with him. I'm so sorry I'll say. "Thank you for trusting me enough to invite me close. I see your pain and it's real. I'm so sorry.'
This is the journey of the warrior and that's what I vow to be: a warrior. The journey is learning that pain, like love, is simply something to surrender to. It's holy space we can enter with people if we promise not to tidy up. So I will sit with my pain and my father's by letting my own heart break. I will love him and others in pain by volunteering to let my heart break with theirs. I'll be helpless and broken and still--surrendered to my powerlessness.
Mutual surrender, maybe that's an act of love. Surrendering to this thing that's bigger than we are: this love, this pain. The courage to surrender comes from knowing that the love and pain will almost kill us, but not quite. "