Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal

Other religions suggest there may be a miracle, or you may go to heaven. But it is strangely comforting to hear from Buddha’s teaching that there is no such thing. This is what it is. This is reality. The Buddha’s teaching says that hope is just the flip side of fear, and fear the flip side of hope. The best thing is just to stay awake and watch it, watch yourself, and feel everything as it is right now.
— Kaz Suzuki,
"A Caregiver's Story"


I read this raw, sad story this morning in the rain while putting off the imminent need to pack for the airport.

I've been dreading the return to reality. (That, of course, implies that this is not "reality." Which is a common and flawed assumption for most of us who escape to a slower pace and warmer climes, I suppose. Still.)

But a sobering reality of another sort hit last night when, late in the evening, I received word through my younger brother that a dear, old friend of the family — a young German woman about my age, whose pastor husband had worked closely for my father when he was dying, and whose serious, cherubic 2-year-old daughter Magdalena brought much light and laughter to the somber, death-gripped hospice bed in the living room that year — was killed, unbeknownst to us, several months ago. Collision with a truck in Germany. Death on impact. She went quickly, leaving an injured Thomas and their now four young children behind.

I felt an unexpected severity of grief, a loss of appetite for all things vital on hearing the news.

This reminder of veritable impermanence, of the fact that, yes, life (and death) are really not "fair," and that's how it is, in spite of every resistance to that truth, shook me at a time when I was feeling selfishly wistful about having to leave the island and head back to "reality."

(How lucky we are to have a reality to return to!)

I will think of Ulrike as a caregiver, ever, she in her quiet unassuming way, and I will have such gratitude, always, for the joy she and her family wrought to my own family in a moment of great sadness. And my heart hurts for the family she's left behind, a family for whom the days are and will no doubt continue to be a struggle.

The thing with caregiving, as Kaz Suzuki describes so poignantly above, is that it's a closed circle kind of phenomenon. We give, knowing we'll need to be given to; we care, knowing we'll need to be cared for. I wish I could better care for Thomas and his children, long out of touch now somewhere in Germany; I wish I could offer them the comfort they offered to us, these years ago, now in their own moment of suffering. And I am reminded of the sick grace of terminal illnesses like HIV and cancer, a grace which comes in the ability to plan for death, to expect it, to say the things we want to say before it's too late.
"Raymond was composed strongly. A big-boned, masculine, athletic guy. And when everything else deteriorated, I think his heart kept on pumping. I’d help him put his legs up, and I would touch his belly. I’d help him breathe, help him watch his breath. I would hold his belly and breathe with him. Being aware of breathing had an immediate effect for him, a calming effect. But I would hear my own internal voice say, Am I going to be like this some day? Who is going to take care of me when I get sick? I felt my own fear and terror. But it helped me to see this, to see my own panic rather than be captured by it. I had never watched my breath or his own so intensely before — I don’t think I can reproduce that. That was the deepest meditation I’ve ever experienced."


Anonymous said…
Rachel--I just read this post and my heart has been ripped wide open with grief. Thank you as always for the meaning and context you provide in your writing, and know that there is someone here in Nebraska that mourns alongside Thomas and the kids and you and your family and all of those our friend touched in her too-short life.

Matt Schur

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