“Karma is a bitch!” we either laughingly or grudgingly hear so often. And that is probably how most people perceive karma—swift (or not so swift) retribution for an action we shouldn’t have committed. The invisible whack across the ear holes the universe gives us for either not doing something we should have, or doing something we shouldn’t.
There is another side to this “bitch”—the side that gives us a chance to in some way correct the things we feel we could have done better “if I could have my life over again.” This is what I am doing now, by caring for a frail 82-year-old woman born the same day and year as my father. He died at 52 and yes, he was frail, but in a different way. Until a month before his death, I wasn’t emotionally ready to in any way make contact with him let alone care for his mental deviances and his physical wreckage from years of prescription drug and alcohol abuse. He could hardly speak coherently, could only navigate his way to anywhere via “this pharmacy” and “that bar.” He was on dialysis three times a week as his kidneys had failed.
A doctor, poet and musician, he loved Shakespeare and after years of not speaking, I decided to call him. Why? I have no idea. I also had no idea what I was going to say, so grabbed a book he had given me for my 13th birthday, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, chose a sonnet, picked up the phone and dialed. It wasn’t easy, but I did it—once a week until he died only a month later.
And I felt nothing. I remember thinking when I was told he had died, “I’m supposed to cry; it’s expected of me; he was my father.” But I couldn’t; there was nothing.
Was there more I could have done while he was alive? Oh yes—so much more. And forgiving him for things he had done would have been a good place to start, much sooner than I did. It would have given me the ability to reach out to him, perhaps read him other things more often that would in some way remove the loneliness that his massive IQ and equally massive addictions had created for him. I could perhaps… just perhaps… have pulled him back from the edge of the abyss.
I have never regretted that I did not do more. I did what I feasibly could at that time—all things taken into consideration—to in even a small way alleviate some of the suffering—both his and mine.
And now, 30 years later, I have this lovely woman I am caring for whose mind reminds me so much of my father’s. No, she has no addictions; she is frail and desperately requires daily care. A brilliant mind, with a body that is simply letting her down. We understand each other so well. I bathe her wounds and discuss them with her; I give her a manicure and we do “girl talk.” We joke, discuss the cats and often, as I clean her wounds, she nods off and I let her sleep with a smile of gratitude that I can do something that would normally cause excruciating pain so gently, she sleeps.
There is also the family I have taken under my wing. A family torn apart years ago through a misunderstanding and continued through pig-headed refusal to communicate. Now one of them is dying from an extremely rare, untreatable and incurable form of cancer. We made contact and what I saw tore me apart. The circumstances could be a paragraph in a Biblical plague, and seeing this man—all 102 pounds of him—with his wicked sense of humour, struggling to eat, struggling to lift things and struggling to move his weakening body around is sometimes more than any of us can bear. But we are doing things at least once a week (yup, that odd “once-a-week” thing of mine) that have started the emotional healing: weeding the garden, buying groceries, taking a meal over, putting together a photo album, organizing an outing. The little things.
Sometimes we get home too tired to move, but it feels good…I think so, as often I am too numb to feel anything at all. There are days I do the gentle scream at the living, “This is all you have left, what are you going to do about it? Why does someone have to die in order for you to learn how to live? What has pig-headedness brought you, huh..huh…HUH?”
This is the side of karma we choose to not see—the side that understands that it is only because of all the things we have gone through, we have the ability to help others. The gentle side of karma that says, “Here. Here is another chance to fix things … do it now before it’s too late!”
My karma is to help others and it is karma that ensured through my various life experiences that I have the physical, emotional and mental strength to take the hands of others—to care, to heal, to comfort and to mend.
During the time I worked with children in Cambodia, I swore I wouldn’t cry as I knew that if I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop. Now I cry more than I think I have ever cried because my heart is full. Full of exhaustion, full of desperation, full of thanks, full of sorrow, full of joy.
And it is karma that constantly brings these people into my life to ensure that while my tears flow with their pain, they also flow with my gratitude.