|Stupa of Lama Yeshe, Vajrapani, Santa Cruz California|
We're told in Buddhist teachings that the birth and death of beings is like a flash of lightning in the night's sky. Lately this has been more and more apparent to me.
Last month I was on intense retreat in the south of France, where my lama's retreat center, Lerab Ling, is. About five days into it, unbeknownst to me, my elderly father started having bad back pain and visiting doctors. His condition may have decreased his ability to eat properly and take medicines. By the time we were alerted by a neighbor that he wasn't looking quite right, he was really in trouble.
I don't like to be dramatic, but this is a dramatic story, as are all stories when a parent is growing older and needing help.
My sister and her husband checked in on Dad and found him needing medical treatment. A trip to the ER brought no pain relief, although xrays were taken, showing a disk in his low back out of place.
A few days later my husband visited Dad and found him less coherent and in a great deal of pain.
Family conferences were held and I took part via WiFi from my mountain in France. It was decided that Dad urgently needed to live with someone, so my sister moved him into my house with my husband, who cared for him as if he were his own father for a week until I returned.
The hard thing was piecing together the puzzle of his sudden worsening of conditions, both mental and physical. I'm still putting things together.
Now he's with my family and all of us, as a team, are taking care of him with tenderness and constant love and attention. The goal is to get him back to a stable, healthy state—but he'll never be able to live again on his own.
The point of writing about this? It affects every aspect of my life and my entire family's life. Obviously, the mala shop is only in half operation during this time. Much as I love making malas and interacting with customers, this isn't the time to focus on it the way I usually do. Now is Dad's time, entirely.
Jeez, the things this man has done for me, my sister, our children, and for strangers. Truly part of the Greatest Generation, he volunteered with Kiwanis, Boy Scouts, homes for developmentally disabled people, and he worked as a criminal attorney for fifty years, not getting paid highly for it, but doing his best to help his clients get the help they needed in life. He also scared the hell out of many of my boyfriends, but those are stories best told elsewhere. (Most 16-21 year old boys who come to date a man's daughter are subject to interrogation and intimidation—it's just their due.) One thing Dad drilled into our heads as children was JFK's famous quote: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country". That extended to community and neighborhood issues, of course.
The teachings that help me right now are from Lojong - considering the kindness of all beings, putting them first as if they were another "I". Also, knowing that ultimately we are all connected and one, made from the ground of all things, and that we're Buddhas already; this helps. Dzogchen teachings help a lot. And whatever happens, I stay as mindful and present as possible and don't allow my mind to go off into stories that bring fear and anxiety.
This is what it means to me to "Take Everything Onto the Path Towards Enlightenment".
I hope that my writing this may help someone somewhere who's doing elder care or helping another sick and needy to stay strong.