This post was originally published on Hot Mama Fit‘s blog in the spring of 2014. I’d love to report that I have been studiously “being more and doing less” over the last two years, but alas, I fall back into old habits more often than I’d like to admit. But I try. I try to be present – fully engaged, attentive, responsive – for those I care about. I try resist distractions and stay focused on singular tasks. I try to unplug every so often, and simply surrender to the beauty of the world around me. I try to be present, most of all, for myself.
Hi Mamas. This is Andrea here, otherwise known as your Westshore Yogi and unofficial Communications Mama. When Lindsay and I were discussing the theme for this month’s newsletter (and by discussing I mean 30 seconds of throwing a few ideas back and forth in between our respective classes, cuz that’s how we roll…), the one that seemed to stick was this idea of “being present” – for ourselves, for our kids, for our partners, etc.
As a yoga teacher, one of the most important objectives of a class is just this: to remind everyone to be completely present in your own body so that you are able to discern when things are uncomfortable, just really flippin’ hard, or when a movement is actually causing you pain. When your head is like a tumbling dryer of obligations – I need to do…to buy…to make…to call…to pick up…and so on – it makes it that much harder to be truly present. We need to make time for being present, and this has never been more clear to me than in the last few weeks.
Can I tell you a story?
The photo above is of me with one of my oldest friends from high school, Colleen, and her two daughters Darcy and Ava. This was taken on Oscar night in 2012. I did everyone’s makeup, and we had a blast wrapping our heads with gypsy scarves, and practicing our red carpet strut.
The photo was taken just after Colleen had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
When I first found out the news, I sprang into action. She and her family live in Edmonton, and because I couldn’t physically deliver meals to her door, I found a local caterer that would drop off a whole bunch of frozen meals to them. I ordered her a bunch of books from Amazon and had them delivered to her address. I alerted all our old friends of her situation, and set up an account in her name to accept donations for the family. I freed up my schedule, and flew to Edmonton during her rounds of chemo so that I could make myself useful – cleaning the house, doing laundry, cooking meals, reading stories to the girls, etc.
I needed to DO something – anything – that would help her out. “Doing” meant that I could avoid “feeling”: scared, sad, anxious, angry…you name it.
When she had her stem cell transplant, I flew back to be with her for a week. As she recovered from her surgery, I continued my safe, useful regimen of more DOING.
A month after her transplant, we found out that it was not successful. Her brother’s stem cells did not overtake her ravaged immune system. Further chemotherapy treatments were no longer an option. She was considered palliative, with possibly 6 months to a year left to survive.
My first thought was: What do I DO now?
When I called her to find out what she needed from me, she was immensely gracious and appreciative of all my efforts to help over the last year. But very kindly she let me know that she needed time to spend with her husband and especially her girls. Her friends, me included, had gotten to know her and love her over 25 years. Ava and Darcy had only known her for 9 and 7 years respectively, and she wanted to spend whatever time she had left making sure she was equipping them with a lifetime survival kit.
I completely understood what she was asking, and accepted that I wasn’t required to DO anything more.
Fast forward two years. Colleen had defied all the odds. She fought against countless infections, complications and subsequent hospitalizations, but she always seemed to come out on top. With an on-going regimen of platelet transfusions and experimental drug techniques, plus the hope that a pending clinical trial may produce some miracle for her, she (and her strong will) managed to keep death at bay. Her body was weakening gradually, but it was no match for her determination.
In January of this year, she suffered a grand mal seizure that put her back in hospital, and severely compromised her weakening constitution. I received a frantic call from a friend who was convinced this was “it”.
Again, my thought was: What do I DO now?
This past BC Family Day weekend, I flew back to Edmonton. As soon as I saw her I knew it was time to say goodbye.
There was nothing I could DO.
I realized that all Colleen needed from me was to BE there for her. To BE PRESENT for her. To hold her hand. To make her smile and laugh. To spoon my body around hers to give her my warmth as we napped together. To listen as she described how she wanted me to be a strong female role model for her girls. She needed me to simply BE me, the friend she had loved for over 25 years.
A few days later, Colleen was admitted to hospice. She died on February 16th with her brother by her bedside. She would have celebrated her 40th birthday on April 1st.
Colleen wasn’t one of “our” Hot Mamas, but she definitely embodied everything I love about this community. She was raising her daughters to be confident, active, sensitive, and responsible children. She was mindful about nourishing her family with the best ingredients she could afford, and getting her kids involved in nourishing themselves. Colleen was a radiant, determined spirit who put in every effort to meet every goal she set for herself, whether running a marathon or completing nursing school in her mid-thirties. You would have loved her.
Mamas, I share this story with you firstly to explain my absence over the last few weeks. I have missed you, but I have needed to heal the aching wound in my heart that manifested into illness and injury in my body. More importantly, I share this story because I want to acknowledge that we all have the tendency to fall into the habit of DOING. Doing is easier. Doing is tangible, a list of tasks we can check off at the end of the day (or move to the next, as the case may often be). Doing makes us feel like we accomplished something noteworthy, no matter how tedious, how routine, how insignificant.
The trouble is we can get subsumed in the vortex of DOING. We ignore our bodies’ messages to our detriment, and get sick or injured. We operate on autopilot with the ones we love the most. We dole out an absent-minded peck on the cheek. We hang up one more new art piece on the fridge without really looking at it. We go through the motions of reading just one more bedtime story, meanwhile our minds drift off to the pile of dishes, the Facebook stream, or the glass of wine with our name on it.
My challenge to you, Mamas (and Daddies), for this month (any maybe every month) is to let go of the role of the “human doing” and embrace the “human being” we are truly supposed to be. Take just ten minutes out of every day to BE PRESENT for yourself and those you love. Give your undivided attention as your partner describes his or her day. Savour the first sip of wine, and let the flavour linger on your tongue. Look out onto the horizon and notice how beautiful the sunset is, as though you have never seen it before. Hug your kids tight and smell the top of their head (because no one else in the world smells like that).
Embrace this moment simply because it is precious, and it will pass before you know it is gone.
Feel what you need to feel.
Say what you need to say.
Be who you need to be.
Know that you are enough, just for being you.