A friend has an adult daughter who has been challenged with depression and anxiety for many years. Lately she has been in a very deep depression and my friend has reached out to her many times, but she has not returned his phone calls nor will she answer the door when he tries to visit. She seldom leaves her home and has not been in contact with any of her friends or other family members. She finally called her father one evening and asked him to stop by. He felt hopeful, but when he arrived, he walked into a very dark cave-like room and she immediately said to him, “Dad, I am giving up. I can’t do this anymore.” She then pointed to a pile of her most precious belongings and said, “I want you to take them.” My friend did not know what to do or how to respond, so he decided right then and there to ask Life for help. He silently asked, “Do I take this stuff?” and he said that Life answered, “Yes, you need to honor exactly where your daughter is.”
I shared with him my belief that when someone says he or she wants to die, the greatest gift we can give that person is to meet them right where they are, even though it may shatter your heart into a million pieces. My friend said he felt helpless, like he was in the “dead of winter.” I reminded him that winter is a very fertile time with a lot going on underneath the soil and in the branches. Yet most of us resist winter and don’t gather the gifts this season offers. I then shared this powerful quote with him:
“If you look at something carefully, you will always be able to see its dark side. One cannot exist without the other. And yet we choose never to look into the shadows. Understand that it is what you choose not to observe in your life that controls your life. Everything begins with a circle of motion, without the positive and negative poles there would be no movement, no creation. Without the dark side your beauty would not exist. Don’t be afraid to look at both sides. You need them both. You must honor all as part of the great spirit.” –Agnes Whistling Elk
I invited my friend to allow himself to soften and open when he recognized he was resisting what Life was offering, especially when it involved intense pain, sadness and grief. I suggested he try a practice that I call “Resist and Allow.” As I am breathing in, I tighten every muscle I can find from my head to my toes, I say three times, “Resist”. Each time I say “Resist,” I tighten my body even more. Then as I breathe out, I slowly let everything go and say “Allow.” as I open to letting go. When I soften and say the word “Allow,” there is a real sense of my body opening. We tried doing this together one afternoon and after a couple of times, he said the resistance in his mind started to calm down and the tightness in his body began to soften. Our natural response is to get as far away from deep pain as we can. Yet, as Agnes says, what we don’t look at controls our lives.
A week after my friend had seen his daughter, she called him to say, “Dad, I have been up all night and I decided I want to try to live. I need your help.” He called me right away and said, “Mary, I am so afraid because we have been here so many times before. I have tried to help her and she gets better for a while, and then she goes right back into her depression.” I shared with him that I have come to realize there is no way to do parenting ‘right.’ Parenting is a fast-moving river and we have to do the best we can with what we know at the moment. I reminded him that, although this is a painful time in his life, it is also an opportunity that Life is giving him to work with the parts of himself that are having a hard time with his daughters pain, especially his helplessness and fear
Parenting does not come with an instruction manual. It includes sadness, loss, shame, fear, grief, and even death. It’s not easy to face deep pain when it involves our children, but know that what you don’t face will control your life. I have learned that the greatest gift we can give our children is to allow them to travel their own path in the way of their choosing. And when challenging situations come up with them, it helps to remember that as you meet what their pain brings up inside of you, you are helping to clear the path for them.