The three jewels of Buddhist Practice are: the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community). Even for those of us who are introverts who have developed tools while out “peopling,” still need our community. One of the pieces that I love most about Buddhist Practice is my community.

 

By Michelleanne Bradley

See Part 1 here

The next few days were surreal.

I remember watching the setting sun that first night—beautiful blazes of orange-red through the hazy clouds and brilliant blues that look so different than where I live in California. I remember thinking that this sunset marked a fundamental change to my world.

I took the kids outside and we did some scream therapy. We held hands on the deck overlooking the river, threw back our heads and screamed long and loud a few times. Mom wanted us to stay up on the island and have a vacation. We had some intense conversations. Mom said that she knew that I wanted to go to the hospital and see him, and that I wanted to talk with the doctors and the nurses, but that if he only had a few days left, those days were hers.

I realize that may sound harsh to some, and a friend pointed out to me that it is incredibly romantic, in the very solid way of, “I am with you by your side, no matter what.”

My brother arrived. We had been down this road before, my brother and I, after the first stroke. This was different because there had been stony silences in the previous month, after a blow up at Morgan’s graduation that resulted in me walking away from manufactured conflict. It has taken me a very long time to walk away from bullshit that is not mine.

Mom stayed with one of her closest friends in town while dad was in ICU.

A little bit about support within community:

The three jewels of Buddhist Practice are: the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama), the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community). Even for those of us who are introverts who have developed tools while out “peopling,” still need our community. One of the pieces that I love most about Buddhist Practice is my community.

In times of trauma, we know who the members of our tribe are because they are the ones who show up and say, “no matter what, no matter when, I am here for you, call anytime, anything that I can do for you, pick me!” I have these friends, I learned how to build this community from my parents, and they are pros.

My mom has been spending time at the hospital all day with dad, so it is important for her to have someone to turn to and allow them to take care of her at the end of the day. I have friends and family members who I have reached out to for help, and they know that I am there for them too—it is the web that we weave. Our tribe stands up when we reach out to them as if they have won the lottery because for them, they have, and we have too.

My practice was constant during this time.

I was always focused on coming back to my breath, despite all the things going on around me. Practicing Tonglen, Metta, Equanimity and staying focused and balanced were my primary goals every moment of every day. One day I was driving with the kids at a particularly gnarly interchange and we were rear ended.

I have traveled with these kids for several years, and I have become the embodiment of my Dharma name, which is True Garden of Protection. When I was first given that name, a friend said that it was the polite way of saying Badass Momma Bear. If you know me, you know this to be true.

When I got out of the car to talk with the guy who rear ended the vehicle that I was driving with the three people I would most likely defend with my life, I was not well seated in my balance and focus of all those practices. The front end of his car had literally fallen off with the impact, but there was no damage to my mom’s SUV. Knowing that the kids had been shaken but were fine, and that the other driver was also not injured brought some relief, as my tension and anxiety continued to skyrocket.

We had initially been told that the only way that Dad would be a candidate for surgery would be to save his life, that the damage from the stroke was too extensive and the damage had been done. Two days later, mom was called by the neurologist and asked for permission to bring him into surgery to give him a better chance at recovering. Mom said that they could do the surgery only if he was not going to come out of this a rutabaga.

Dad hates rutabaga.

Mom had negotiated with the hospital that my brother and I could alternate going to the hospital for two hours per day at the end of the visiting hours to sit with Dad. Due to COVID, visitation was severely curtailed. When I saw him after the surgery it was the first I had seen him since he left the cabin.

He looked like a shell of the Dad I had known.

He was hooked up to many machines and appeared to be convulsing. I got loud about the convulsing and immediately the room was flooded with nurses and doctors searching for the cause. Mom told me that I had to leave. I had been there for all of five minutes. I called for a ride and then called a friend in California who knew my parents, was a nurse, and had visited my parents in Syracuse with me. She was also my medical power of attorney and we have had all the difficult conversations around end-of-life care.

I was crying so hard that I could barely take a breath, and she held me and grounded me until my brother arrived.

I would go back to their house at night with my brother and the kids and sit in the yard overlooking the barn, the corral, and the pond and try to come back to my breath with some level of ease. I tried to not squelch all my feelings, especially in front of the kids, because emotions are real, and squashing emotions causes expensive therapy and bad coping mechanisms. My heart was aching and my tendency to dissociate in times of trauma made it difficult to stay in my physical body.

I visited with the super friends in the area, sometimes showing up unannounced and they always welcomed me without question and sat with me. Their kindness was so enormous, and I am forever grateful.

Mom wanted us to go back to California and Arizona on our regular schedule because she wanted things to be as normal as possible at a time in our lives when everything was completely opposite of normal. I changed my flight to go directly back to California since my brother was there to take the kids to Arizona. Before we left, we had a conversation about what would happen next, where what Dad would want, and what we could agree on for planning next steps.

This was a difficult conversation.

We had already pole vaulted over extraordinary measures, and he was not responding to stimuli. I wanted a conversation with his medical team before I left, but we could not pull it together in time, so it would be a phone conversation with my brother and me on speaker and Mom with the medical team.

When I returned to San Diego, I was scheduled to perform a vow renewal ceremony for a friend of the heart who had grown up knowing my family. We had arranged long before the visit that I would do a small ceremony for she and her husband to renew their vows when they were here with their two daughters. We had agreed to meet for dinner, and the next night we would go to the Alcazar Gardens in Balboa Park for the ceremony.

It felt right that we would continue with this joyful milestone celebration, especially amid such heartbreak.

The day of the ceremony we had the meeting with the medical staff and decided that we would move my father to palliative care and hospice. I was the one to speak out to say that my father would not have wanted a G-tube and to be kept in a vegetative state. I had arranged with friends that I would try to take the call from their house, and if I could not make it before, I would be there immediately after.

We decided to wait until 12 July to take him off all interventional medicine because his birthday was 11 July. I am not sure how I drove to my friend’s house. As soon as I got there, we went outside, and I completely broke down.

Shit had just gotten real.

 

Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Dana Gornall

 

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Michelleanne Bradley