I was driving home from a movie with my sons several weeks ago, when I noticed a call from New Mexico on my phone. My 60 year old sister Nancy lived in a small town outside of Santa Fe. It was her friend Gwen who informed me that Nancy had killed herself. Nancy had a long history of depression, her energy was chronically pressed down. A big part of the shock I felt was realizing that I shouldn’t be totally surprised that she felt she just couldn’t continue to helplessly fail in her attempts to face her life. She was so emotionally fragile that she felt imprisoned in emotional paralysis that prevented her from taking action on the most important decisions necessary to function in her daily life.
We grew up together in a quite disengaged family in terms of expressing our feelings with one another. She was seven years younger than I, so we didn’t have a lot of contact over the years. But we always knew we cared for each other very much, she was a very compassionate and benevolent presence. We had become quite a bit closer over the last several years; my other sister Mary Jo and I had found her a divorce attorney with whom we completed her second divorce, and we walked her through the steps of selling her expensive Colorado home with a real estate agent when we visited her in New Mexico a year ago. She had taken us to the cemetery in her little town, and had said several times she wasn’t sure how much more time she had on earth.
As I was receiving the inevitably painful and heavy dreadful shock of her death, I realized that the most difficult part for me was that she had left her 38 year old daughter Lindsay with a one month old baby boy. Couldn’t she see that her loving presence alone would have been enough as well as necessary for Lindsay and baby Matisse to experience the wonders of Grandmother heart?? I at first felt some anger at her for abandoning her family at such a crucial time, but it didn’t last long. I knew that I couldn’t fully understand how dark the cloud of despair and helplessness held her in its grip.
There was still a part of me that needed to push away the horror of that despair, and I couldn’t yet clearly see that even in our darkest moments, we are deeply loved. I was reminded of what Nisargadata said when he was asked about sinners. “When I look at others, no matter what they’ve done, I don’t see an other, I see myself.” To really deeply realize our oneness is to embody the BEING that is all beings. More and more I now only have love and mercy in my heart for Nancy.
The night before her funeral, I laid down and felt her presence with me. I sensed that she knew she was loved. I realized there was nothing I could have done to prevent this happening. I resisted her pain while she was with us, and it was clear now that I was really resisting my own pain. I was seeing her pain as other, seeing her as other. Now there was forgiveness in my heart, and I remembered Thich Nhat Hanh’s saying, “I hold you close to me, and I release to be so free, because I am in you, and you are in me.”