Within our human connectedness, what matters the most is something so simple it can almost be overlooked. Something so ordinary in its application that its intense impact can be disregarded. It is simple, but not easy. Unpretentious, yet so difficult to maintain. That's the thing about kindness: it seems basic.
Human beings are not good at predicting how they will react in circumstances that have yet to unfold. Those of us working in healthcare understand that life-altering illness, trauma or anticipation of death can sometimes sap the will to live. In those instances, healthcare providers are called upon to commit time; time to manage distress, provide unwavering support and to assuage fear that patients might be abandoned to their hopelessness and despair. That is the essence of how medicine has traditionally responded to suffering. Stopping time by way of arranging the patient's death has never been part of that response.
While the majority of people haven't found the courage yet to talk with expectant parents about the risk of losing a child, how to survive such tragedies and continue to live, we need to be even more diligent in ensuring that we have experienced specialists in place that are available every time parents are facing the tragedy of losing their baby.
The need for people also to make advance directives (often called living wills) and to discuss them with family is greater than ever as medical technology advances, but there is a serious legal problem. You may have an advance directive signed in perfect health clearly stating your wishes, but if and when you become incompetent, current law in some provinces permits your next of kin or power of attorney to ignore it. Surely new legislation must recognize and prevent this potential abuse that most people would find offensive and unacceptable.
This past week, the Supreme Court of Canada has been hearing an appeal by the BC Civil Liberties Association that could grant terminally ill Canadians the right to assisted suicide. The Court faces a daunting task. Palliative care cannot eliminate every facet of end-of life suffering. Preserving dignity for patients at the end of life requires a steadfast commitment to non-abandonment, meticulous management of suffering and a tone of care marked by kindness. In response to this dignity conserving approach, the former head of the Hemlock Society conceded that "if most individuals with a terminal illness were treated this way, the incentive to end their lives would be greatly reduced."
In August 2010, I was attending week three of a youth conference and found myself deep in meditation, sobbing as if I had just emerged from the womb. Here I was, in the middle of Berlin deep in meditation, with the photo of an older Indian man with long hair and in white robes at the front of the room, feeling at my very core that my life was about to change dramatically.
People are meant to be resilient and aim to recover from traumatic life events so when you lose a beloved pet, it is natural for those who care about you to ask when you are going to fill the void by adopting another lucky fur-child. Emotionally, we may process it as someone trying to get us to replace the love we just lost.
I have my own ideas about what it means to control your own life and the right a person should have to end that life if they choose. But I'm not writing this to spout my opinion on suicide. I'm writing this to tell a story I'll never have the chance to tell Robin Williams, as if I would've had a chance of ever meeting the man.
Hope is truly something beautiful. But so very easy to forget when faced with the pain of loss, when faced with the pain of separation. When faced with death. And while we might forget such when in the midst of great trouble, marked by betrayal and rejection, by the tragedy of disease and unexpected loss of both minor and grave proportions.
We can go days without talking, but I still know their love is there. Most of the time it's comforting, like a hug or a warm sweater. But sometimes it's heavy, almost suffocating, as if their happiness depends entirely on my actions, my life. I don't blame them because I know this intensity only stems from their greatest fear: losing me or my brothers.
Seven months later and I'm still stunned by the palpable pain I feel in the pit of my chest when I think of him. I marvel at how grief just patiently sits there quietly, waiting for me to suddenly catch a glimpse of someone who looks like him, or for a whiff of someone's Aqua Velva aftershave, that cheap blue stuff he splashed on his face when I was a kid, and suddenly pain, like a searing knife, cuts through me. Seven months of firsts. The first Christmas without him, first New Years' celebrations, first Easter, and now... the first Father's Day.