Friday, February 5, 2010

The Challenge of Showing Up

Over the last ten days, a huge number of the people who are important in my life have been facing major health challenges.

My grandmother, who I adore, resides in her own apartment in an assisted living complex. She is feisty, stubborn, and hates it when people hover over her. She remains, at 99 1/2, remarkably independent, still doing her own laundry, taking in sewing jobs for other residents, and serving with numerous charitable organizations. When I went to take her out to dinner last Saturday, I noticed a large purple bruise on her chin, neck and ear. She said I was the first to notice it - she had fallen out of her bed the previous Wednesday. I was frantic with worry that not a single employee had noticed. She is supposed to report falls, but usually doesn't, because she's afraid it will mean a loss of independence. Driving home after, I was in tears, realizing that I had to step up my level of commitment regarding her care, make more regular in-person visits instead of phone calls, and talk to someone in charge. I want to be there for her - but part of me feels woefully inadequate to the task, and I can't stand the thought that her health could be in jeopardy.

The first friend that I made when I moved to California, Aly, now lives in Bangor (California, near Oroville), and is the mother of three-year-old twins. Last month, she had an attack of optic neuritis, fearing that she was going blind. Just this past week she confirmed with Oakland doctors that it was probably the first sign of MS. My best friend in Kyoto, Yukari, had an optic neuritis attack while I was living there, and later fairly aggressive MS, including an attack that left her completely paralyzed on the right side for several months. My brother-in-law, Will, was also diagnosed with MS about two years ago, and he is continuing to struggle with the progression of the disease. This terrifies me, because these are young people, in their 30s and 40s, whose lives are radically and unpredictably changed. And all of them are dear to my heart.

On New Year's Eve, my little two-year-old nephew Oliver choked on a piece of apple and lost consciousness. My sister-in-law had to perform CPR and call 911. He was rushed to a hospital in Napa, and then taken by ambulance to Children's Hospital in Oakland. Alert doctors investigated beyond the choking incident, wondering why he had choked in the first place. They discovered that he had a congenital heart problem, where aortic tissue had wrapped around his esophagus and trachea, narrowing the openings. He was in grave risk of choking again. Yesterday he underwent heart surgery with a team of pediatric cardiologists in Oakland. Thankfully, the surgery went well, no surprises, and the prognosis looks good. But he is in intensive care for the next several days. He just turned two last Saturday - it's a hell of a way to spend the week after your birthday.

Given all of this, I have been worried and stressed, vacillating back and forth from feeling helpless to adopting a "take charge" attitude where I am actively offering whatever support I can. Since the last few months have also been challenging for me personally, with at times devastating mood swings, all of these outside health concerns have hit me very hard.

Life isn't easy, is it? Again and again, I try to ground myself, do the next right thing, and simply keep showing up. It seems like that's really the only way to cope.

In the chaos of these recent days, one place that I have not showed up is here on the blog. And now, I realize that this, although understandable, has actually made things more difficult instead of easier. Writing here is as much a part of my practice now as zazen. And when I avoid it, I am only worsening the discomfort, not easing it.

So once again, it is time to commit to showing up, in all the many ways that I can and should.


  1. Welcome back, Michelle. My thoughts are with you and your friends and family.

  2. Michelle, your words jump off the page and into my heart. Thank you for sharing.