Life Support

Over a year ago, my 89-year-old mother had a stroke. She was already suffering from dementia, so my family decided to place her in a nursing facility about a mile from my job at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Nine months later, my 90-year-old father voluntarily moved into the same facility.

At first I was miserable. Strange noises and smells assaulted my senses each time I entered the nursing home doors. One squawking resident constantly yelled, “Help me!” The pain of realizing that my parents were nearing the end of their lives was overwhelming. Sometimes I’d escape outside and cry by my car.

One day, Mom was in an angry, demented tizzy. After about 30 minutes of trying to calm her, I gave up. A little light switched on in my brain: “Now the Practice of Yoga,” Patanjali‘s first sutra.
In that moment, I understood that this was an opportunity for me to practice the yoga of life flowing inextricably toward death. Then I recalled the Buddha’s first Noble Truth: “Life is suffering,” and I thought, “Must I suffer just because Mom is?” I breathed again and began to practice the tried-and-true Kripalu methodology, BRFWA, meaning “breathe, relax, feel, watch, and allow.” Soon I felt a little more peaceful within the maelstrom of Mom’s confusion.

My yogic epiphany happened many months ago. Since then I have come to accept more readily that my parents will continue to have their daily ups and downs. The best I can do is practice equanimity. The yapping voice who cries, “Help me!” actually has a name, and I’ve grown rather fond of Harriet—she is a part of the tapestry of my family’s “new normal.”