A family member of ours is ill. Her health has been deteriorating very quickly. As the physical state worsens, the mind turns misty and starts wandering into dark and obscure corners.
It is painful to watch her wither away every day.
Our small children asked: “What can we do for her?”
I said: “You can go and visit her during school holidays. For now, you can facetime her every couple of days”.
So they call her and sing songs and say silly things now and then.
My wife asked: “What else can we do for her?”
I said: “Apart from providing medical care, emotional and physical support, and helping her maintain a certain quality of life, there is not much else we can do”.
Intuitively my wife already had the answer, but the question still begged to be asked.
As human beings, don’t we all want to suffer in place of our loved ones? Not everyone would say Yes to that question. But as an admirer of John Lennon’s spirit, I would love to believe that Yes is the universal, unequivocal answer.
But the reality is: we cannot suffer in place of our loved ones, or anyone else. The best thing we could do right now, for our ill family member, apart from providing care, is to be by her side and respond spontaneously to her needs. She must go through physical pains and mental anguish herself. We can only hope that she is feeling ready. We are watching a lonely boat entering treacherous waters. May she gather enough wind to navigate the big waves!
Each of us must carry our own cross; nobody else can carry that cross for us. That cross may be old age, illness and death to many people, but it could be any perceived burden that generates a great amount of suffering. And of course, when there is no perceived burden, there would not be any cross to carry. But I have never met anyone, apart from children, who has not perceived some kind of personal burden.
That is why I do not spoil my children to the nth degree, though deep down I would love to spoil them for the rest of their lives. When it is time for them to carry their own crosses, they will need to be ready. No amount of spoiling could help them get ready. And for a loving father, not spoiling the children all the time is a very hard thing to do.
That is why at times I deliberately choose discomfort over comfort, not only for my own sake, but also for the other person. In my experience, the most comfortable path has rarely served anyone any good, when that someone faces a challenge in life.
I suspect that there are types of sufferings for which I have not prepared myself sufficiently. Perhaps I will never be quite ready when it is my time to carry the cross. But I know that when the time comes, I will not regret that I have not tried.
Some folks think that this is a negative way of treating life. I can see their perspectives, but I disagree with them, as getting ready for situations that undoubtedly will come my way is a positive way to deal with those situations.
I am sitting here wishing that I could carry the cross for her, and knowing such a wish is futile, I remind myself that love is understanding and caring, and helping loved ones get ready.
In the same way, I help my children get ready for school each morning.
📸 Lotte Löhr