(Dr. Norquist is on vacation this week. We are re-running a letter that was published earlier in this column.)
Dear Dr. Norquist:
I recently lost my mother to a two year struggle with cancer. I was able to care for her during this time period as she lived about 20 minutes from my home. My friends criticized me for how much I neglected the rest of my life to be with my mom, but I can’t begin to tell you how being with her over the past two years and sharing in her struggles, has changed my life.
My mother was an incredible person, always loving, positive and strong. She was so courageous despite her pain. It brings tears to my eyes to remember her unwavering spirit. She had many setbacks, and I’m not saying she never felt angry or frustrated or depressed but she was always able to regain her “I’m not giving up” attitude. Being with her during her suffering strengthened me and taught me the meaning of compassion. It was one of her last gifts to me. I share this in hopes that it will encourage your other readers to be there for their loved ones if they are critically ill, because sharing this experience with them will change both of them forever in ways they could have never imagined.
Dr. Norquist responds:
Life brings to each one of us a multitude of potentially life-enriching experiences. The more awake and aware we are, the more we are able to take advantage of these experiences to develop our wisdom, love and compassion for all of life. Compassion is the great equalizer. With compassion we feel another’s suffering and know that we are no different, no better and no worse than the person who is suffering. We are all human souls doing what we can to protect ourselves from and survive the storms of our lives. Compassion dissolves righteousness and judgment. With a compassionate eye we know that “there but for the grace of God, go I.”
It is easy to judge another for actions that we disapprove of. It’s easy, that is, if we have never been in a similar situation. The potential by-product of suffering, pain, and grief is a wise, open and compassionate heart. You are wise to have won this treasure for yourself through your response to your mother’s illness and death. Thank you for sharing.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2012 Chaitanya Counseling Services