Life lessons in compassion

My sister and her husband John have been providing my parents with the BEST of care since they helped them move up to Denver a few years ago. My sister knows her stuff when it comes to medical care of the elderly. She is a nationally known leader in the field!

But we received a unique and surprising lesson in compassion from my brother John this week. As we gathered around my Dad to help him transition from this life to who knows what is next, I felt honored to observe my brother show his soft and gentle side, rubbing my Dad’s useless legs while quietly thanking him for all that he has done for all of us. My Dad is pretty confused and, of course uncertain how to respond to this stage of his life. I watched my brother soothe him and make it all easier for him.

John and Dad at his 90th birthday party, January 2019

The person who comes to understand his parents, can forgive the world. 

This brought up for me, the lessons we all may learn about compassion on deeper and deeper levels as we age. The ironies aren’t lost on me. I was raised in a fairly competitive and critical family. We knew we could always do better and never stopped striving for excellence. Unfortunately this way of seeing life includes quite a bit of comparison between ourselves and others. It also includes the belief that love and compassion must be earned. Therefore, my Dad could not fully comprehend all the human compassion he received when he first was moved to a nursing home. He kept saying,

“These people don’t even know me and yet they are so good and kind to me!”

In my thirties I started learning more about compassion from a wonderful therapist I saw for four or five years. Her beliefs included a hint of Buddhist and Asian influence. Then I received an education in transpersonal counseling psychology at the Naropa Institute in Boulder in the 1990s. All of this training taught me that compassion definitely starts at home. Self-compassion and personal generosity is your shortest path to being able to offer love and compassion to others.

The Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, and her orchids

I still struggle with comparing myself to others. I have to tell myself over and over again that we are all on schedule on our spiritual journey. We are all gloriously different in our paths. I have also had to learn to practice more generosity with my love, compliments and support, switching away from the shortage mentality I was raised with.

Now I find, we are all enough. We are all walking each other home...

Postscript: My father passed away peacefully the afternoon of March 10th. I saw him in our marvelous sunset last night, and hope to always see him there...

2 thoughts on “Life lessons in compassion

  1. You brought back a memory of a young man working weekends at my mother in law’s nursing home. I don’t think I ever witnessed compassion like what he showed in his interaction with the residents, not just my mother in law – helping them with everything, and I do mean everything, with patience and even humor. Weekends at many of these facilities have minimal staffing so his workload was even heavier than normal. My mother in law loved him. She started to call him “my fourth son”, in fact. The last days of life are difficult.. May you (and your Dad) find peace during his final days.


  2. Well said. Always a huge plus when this happens before we lose the ones we need to show compassion to…and in so doing, show it to ourselves.


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