Driving home from work recently I was passed by an ambulance, lights flashing, careful driving, carrying some poor soul to the hospital I guess. I was tired, it had been a long day, but I was quite startled to find tears flooding down my face as I drove on. For many years, this quite commonplace sight, along with the sound of sirens, heard but not seen, brought me a sense of dread. It is the inevitable side effect, I suspect, of being responsible for the care of a fragile soul. Mum started breaking bits if herself when my daughter was about four. She had been extremely fragile in childhood, then began to be once more, post menopause. It started with an elbow, which wasn't too bad but made opening Christmas presents that year rather a task. The breakages increased over the next 20'ish years to include leg, pelvis, sternum, fractured spine, neck, skull, and finally hip, which was the one that she simply couldn't recover from. Each of these breaks involved endless hours in casualty, hospitalisation, and quite a bit of my support once she got home again. During this time I brought my daughter up and looked after my mother in law with Alzheimer's for four years, a dependency that also involved several trips to casualty and, once, her return by some very understanding policemen, in the middle of the night, in nothing but her nightie. Oh, and a first class honours degree from the OU and the transformation of my life.
My daughter is is nearly 25 and living her own life, Mum and my mother in law are gone; the need for me to care has stopped - for now. Yet this flood of tears made me realise that, inside, the constant anxiety, the anticipation of disaster, has become so ingrained that, unwittingly, I am still there in that emotional space, suspended between the last hospital visit and the next, waiting to be needed again. It was a sobering thought and made me wonder how one gets beyond such deeply ingrained responses, grown over a period of many years. Yet isn't that how life is for all of us? We live in a world that requires things from us, and in which things happen to us and, for the most part, we react instinctively. Things good and bad draw responses from us, responses we often don't think about or question. It is as though our souls learn to generalise, cease to be in that childhood state of newness where each thing in a wonder and each event fresh and untried. These instinctive, unregulated reactions to life are often a source of compassionate action, of laughter, of pure delight. They can also be the source of bigotry, hate and misery. If we have a bad day at work, or someone is unpleasant to us, our response to that can lead to more misery. We may snap at a shop assistant because we're feeling grumpy, fail to see a loved one's need because we're still rehearsing the nasty thing that man said this morning.
For me, Mindfulness is a way of trying to mediate these reactions. If we take the time to watch ourselves, not in a self centred me, me, me way, but in a spirit of investigation and of letting go, hopefully we find ourselves questioning that stab of irritation, realising that perhaps the person who has just been unkind may be having a really bad day themselves. They are simply people, not the enemy, and letting go of the negative response allows us to move forward in clarity, dropping the inevitable reaction at "them" and leaving it where it belongs, in the past. Now is always now, the past will always have happened, but we can encourage ourselves to leave the bad things there.How this helps with my impending sense of catastrophe, I'm not entirely sure. It is so ingrained I am mostly unaware of it, other than as a constant disquiet whispering in the back of my mind. However, I shall try. I know when I am old, it will be my dearest wish that my daughter is not burdened with my care. I also recognise what a deep and welcome gift caring for Mum proved to be. She would not want me to still be anxious, just as I would not want Jen to feel this way.With awareness may come release.