“Dealing with long-term difficulties or illness affecting a close friend or family member can be distressing and harrowing. The demands of supporting a loved one through ongoing crisis can be stressful and exhausting, especially if we are living with an ongoing situation where we feel we can no longer, physically, do anything more to improve their situation.
We may feel trapped, frustrated and unable to cope, we just cannot do any more to help, their progress, (or lack of) is outside our control. This is when we may feel we have reached breaking point.
Don’t despair, there is more we can do to improve our capability to cope and to support our loved one.”
In part 1 we looked at how we could begin to improve our mental strength and coping ability while decreasing our stress using techniques such as Patient Acceptance and Meditation. These techniques prepare us to move forwards and look at two more factors which will help:
1. Letting go of Blame.
Blame in this situation is usually a combination of anger and non-acceptance. We are finding it difficult to cope and wish to ‘hit out’ angrily or ‘push away’ the perceived cause of our pain. We look for a person to point the finger at, even the victim themselves maybe, as we find it difficult to accept and endure the pain we are experiencing.
We may feel inadequate, unable to accept our helplessness, especially if our loved ones behaviour is a risk to their health. We may feel we could lose them and they are to blame ‘for doing this stupid reckless thing’ which endangers them and our relationship with them. We blame them for our fear and pain.
They may be in a tricky relationship or employment situation, troubled with addicitions or suffering abuse at the hands of another, we mentally scream at them “For goodness sake, all you have to do is THIS!”. Our views about what they should and shouldn’t do seem completely opposite to their own views. We feel they are unwilling to do the one thing which we believe will end their misery.
We have to accept we cannot control the life of another. We can only love them, maybe guide them and try to develop our own inner strength to support them. We merely continue to do our best while patiently supporting as they make their own decisions, no matter how difficult or painful this may be for us.
If we have any understanding of Karma, this will help our mind be more accepting of this difficult period, release some of the stress we are accumulating as we mentally try to block out reality, and help us support them.
4. Love .
When we truly love someone we only want what is best for them. This pure love has no self-interest, we wish only for the other person to be happy. The nearest we get to this in our society is a mothers’ love for her child; the mother places the childs health, happiness, and welfare above her own. However, even this can be mixed with self concern. How many parents and children become estranged because one can’t deal with the others choice of lifestyle, partner or behaviour. Even if separation becomes inevitable, is there still love in their hearts? Pure love, wishing the other to be happy? Or has it degenerated into a mind which may even be hoping they are miserable because we blame some word or deed for the cause of our own misery or unhappiness?
Most of our relationships are mixed with this self concern. We may love our friend or relative dearly but when they have long-term problems or health issues, especially if we consider them self-inflicted, we may struggle with our relationship as not only do we have to witness their suffering but we also mourn the loss of the happiness and support we derived from them in prior days. They may become totally obsessed with their illness or difficulty, their personality or character may appear transformed, they no longer resemble the friend we used to have and enjoy.
So, although part of our distress comes from seeing them suffer, a large part of our stress comes from our own self concern. The more we focus on ourself and our feelings, the more we actually decrease our ability to accept the situation and maintain a peaceful mind . Shantideva, a famous Buddhist master once explained that true Happiness comes from cherishing others around us rather than focusing on ourself.
Recognising that some of our pain comes from our own self concern does not make us a “bad person”, but allows us to engage in a method by which we decrease our stress and increase our ability to support our loved one through their difficulties.
If we increase our pure love for our friend or relative, we spend more mental energy on wishing them to be happy and less on contemplating our own discomfort with the situation.
So for example, instead of waking in the morning thinking ‘Oh No! I can’t face it! I feel awful! I can’t bear another day!’, we think ‘ What can I do to give them a little happiness today?’ It may be something as simple as sending a card, text, email, Facebook message, making them a cup of teas, buying them a newspaper or magazine, or just spending some time with them. When we see that our small action increases their happiness, we will naturally have a better state of mind ourself.
The important thing is not to do any of these things with an expectation of gratitude – that is not our intention as it arises from self concern ( a wish to be appreciated). So even if they are grumpy and don’t appear any happier, our mind is still at peace because from our side we have given something with a pure intention. If we are already a meditator it is incredibly helpful, both to our loved one and our self, to engage in the ‘Taking and Giving’ meditations explained here.
We can help decrease their pain and suffering by accepting them without criticism, loving them as they are, and finding ways to ease them through whatever painful process they are enduring, while maintaining peace and strength in our own mind.
If we can develop and maintain mental strength and inner peace, we become much more capable of supporting our loved one as they battle their way through whatever difficult situation has befallen them.
For further reading you may enjoy Modern Buddhism, which you can download for free here.