We all have those moments in which we look back and think of the thousand different scenarios in which we could have done things differently and how each of them would impact our present day. Well, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about how I could have treated my aunt differently before she passed away and this has led me to re-think about suffering and compassion.
Unfortunately, I have come face to face with Cancer through people I have held dearly close to my heart for many years now. I have seen the ‘Big C’ strip its victims from the things they loved most just as I’ve seen the people who love them being stripped from their Earthly presence. The truth is I am no expert in the subject, I am just someone who has felt the pain of seeing her aunt and her childhood ballet teacher suffer through this disease in what will always seem to me to be the most undeserving manner. I used to struggle a lot trying to find a way in which I could be helpful and compassionate to them, but I was simply too young to grasp the notion that compassion can be shown in so many unique ways (and that it does not mean pitying someone).
I am sure these two women whom I loved so very dearly did not expect me to find a cure or to make their pain go away. However, people say that hindsight is 20/20 and I can surely see clearly now that if there was anything my aunt deeply missed from her Cancer free days, it was the sweet and simple joy of everyday life. She missed the independence and strength she had rightfully earned after fighting extremely painful battles throughout her whole life, battles just as beautiful as they were painful. When I think of her, I try to remember the long conversations we used to have before our lives were completely turned and I now sadly notice how the conversations began becoming shorter the more her cancer progressed. It was not that I did not want to talk to her, it was just that I was so scared. I was scared to say the wrong thing, or about saying something that would ‘remind’ her of the Cancer – AS IF she wasn’t aware of it every second of her life bound in bed. I was so scared that for one second, I even thought the Cancer had also deprived her from her lifelong-built resilience.
I know better now than to blame myself for not doing this differently as much with my aunt as with my beloved ballet teacher. I can only count my blessings for having had the opportunity of having such beautiful role models in my life and try to forgive my younger self simply for not having the life experience I now have. Most importantly I can share this story with others who might be struggling with a similar situation and feel at a lost. If I could sum up what I learnt from my experience in three sentences, I would say the following:
1. Always be aware that compassion goes many ways and in many shapes and colours. Don’t be too hard on yourself for not knowing what to do. Dealing with these kind of life altering situations is and should not be easy. Be kind to yourself and others.
2. Try to remember that people suffering from terminal illnesses are probably missing the simple joys of going about their everyday life, so it might be helpful to treat them as you did before. They have a disease but they are NOT their disease.
3. Love. Love intensely while you can, because that’s the best way to avoid regrets.