Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Praying in the Dark

I keep coming back to the reality of how much I don’t know. When I do my prayers, if they include requests for healing on any level (for myself, others or the world) I always add, “For the highest good of all and according to free will.” It’s my way of saying: “And what the heck do I know?!”

I’m trying to remember this as I assist my two aging parents, both of whom have Alzheimer’s, because it’s so easy to become convinced that a particular path or unfolding of events would be preferable, desirable, or have “better” consequences. But- once again- what do I know?

My mother is grieving the loss of my father (who has advanced Alzheimer’s and had to be sent to a psychiatric facility 100 miles away after escalating aggression.) Her doctors, nurse practitioners, social workers, pastor and myself think that the progress of her dementia might be slowed and her well-being enhanced if she went to assisted living for even a brief stay at a beautiful retirement residence on the lake in her community. She could come and go, receive daily support, and not have to make any immediate decisions re: selling her home or where she will live in the longer term. Seems like a no-brainer.

But, she is adamant (most of the time) that she does not want this, although she is not clear about what she does want & refuses to try a period of respite in assisted living. Understandable, but from my perspective, not really in her best interests.

But, what do I know? My definition of “best” may not be hers. Supportive living might decrease the rate of her mental deterioration. But what if that’s not her priority? What if (and I am not saying this is true) she is semi-consciously hoping that the dementia will progress faster so she will not be cognisant of missing my father? Her entire and sole identity for sixty years has been “Don’s wife.” It is hard for her to imagine any other existence. And. . . . maybe she doesn’t want to.

Which is where the second part of that “rider” I put on my prayers comes in: “according to free will.” People have a right to make their own choices about how they live (unless it impinges on another’s choices and then we have to work toward a mutually acceptable choice) and, if they are not completely mentally incapacitated, how they die. And let’s face it, we all make less than ideal choices all the time. How many of us have watched a friend choose a partner we know is going to treat them badly or make an unwise financial decision? (Because it’s so much easier to see the probable negative consequences of others’ choices.)

Even the situation with my father- which I and many others worked to avoid- well. . . can I be sure that the facility where he is now is not for his highest good? I pray it is.

I’m not advocating passivity in our lives, or in our relationships. I will do everything I can to ensure both of my parents receive the support and care they need. But. . . some of those decisions are beyond my control (at this point, particularly and legally, with my father) and some, rightfully, (again, at this point, with my mother) are not mine to make.

Human beings have free will. Whenever I hear someone say with unqualified optimism that “everything happens for a reason” implying some kind of divine order orchestrating the unfolding of events, I want to remind them about free will. Often “the reason” something happens is because one or more human beings made a free will choice – as is our right and responsibility- that had particular seen or unforeseen, positive or negative (from our current limited perspective) consequences.

So, I’ll keep adding my rider to prayers- so I can pray with my whole heart for what seems to me would be of benefit for myself, other s and the world- reminded that my perspective is very small, and that everyone has the right to exercise the free will we have each been given, for as long as we are able.


  1. Amen I look forward to your weekly wisdoms. You ponder things in life and come up with insightful answers. The beauty of life is that we are free to make our own decisions, whether right our wrong, they are ours. Oh what power.

  2. I so agree! I add "mutually beneficial and life supportive" as part of my rider, and I continually remind myself that I do not know what another's soul wants. I recently experienced the challenge of this when I was an advocate for a family member in the hospital. Sometimes gifts come in ugly packages, and of course what one finds ugly another may find beautiful. So, who am I to decide that for another. To me, simply saying "everything happens for a reason" can imply a limited perception that denies personal responsibility.

  3. Very interesting and insightful perspectives on what is happening in your family Oriah. Your parents are from a very different era and cannot understand your concerns,name change etc. at present (at least your mom I mean). Unfortunately your dad sounds as though he is beyond either understanding or not. Dementia is a nasty creeping loss over time that one continues to grieve until the final resolution of death. There is an excellent book about "Ambiguous Loss" and how difficult it is to cope with.
    I am glad you always end your prayers the way you do. Mine end with "may this or something better be for all concerned" - a similar sentiment.
    I have loved your poem "the Invitation" for years. It so expresses my own thoughts about our shallow, self-centred society. Not that there is anything wrong with being centred in oneself as long as we don't intentionally hurt others in the process. I will watch for future posts of yours - glad to find your website. Sometimes things do happen for a reason and yes we always have the choice to ignore that!

  4. Oriah ~ This is a very interesting topic for me, allowing others to make their own choices and not trying to control how they wish to live, the choices they make, etc. Sometimes my "help" and suggestions are perceived as "control." So I am learning the difference.

    I can't imagine how difficult it is to have *two* parents with Alzheimer's! Plus your own CFS. Recently I have had to be tending to my sister who has been bed-ridden off and on for a several months with chronic back and hip problems. Plus, an 83 yr old mother whom I notice is really beginning to "lose it" - I believe that dementia is setting in. She seems to have lost the ability to conceptualize what I am saying. Plus I have "adrenal fatigue" (a subset of CFS). So my heart goes out to you!!!

    I recently posted excerpts from your poems on my blog - combining excerpts from the two for a bit of moon inspiration :) - with a link to your website. I have read two of your books many years ago and I go back to them from time to time for inspiration - as I did this week...

    Heart Hugs to you! Christine

  5. Swan Woman, okay, I have to ask- how do you know my mother does not understand my name change? She in fact does not accept it (not sure if she does not understand it but she is adamant about her right to determine what I am called by everyone who she knows- and honestly, once I'd given birth I understood a little of how she feels, although I would change what I called either of my sons if one of them changed his name.) Was curious though, because I do not think I have talked about this on the blog. :-) Oriah (and if the reason is confidential please email me at

  6. PS Oriah ~ Oh dear - I didn't mean my previous comment to sound like that allowing others to make their own choices was new to me! It was more that the whole concept of "choice" and "free will" is a topic I'm interested in... I'm not a control freak :) And you don't have to publish this one! Just wanted to clarify... Thanks

  7. LOL- Mystic- not publish this- how could I resist :-) The (somewhat embarassing) truth is that we are all, at times "control freaks!" Mostly this happens when we are afraid that someone else's choice is going to result in consequences for us- which is, after all, fair enough for us to be concerned about. I have found that the only way to avoid this is to be very clear with myself and the other about what I can and cannot do and then stick with that. So, although my mother talks about moving from the home she had with my father into an apartment or smaller house, I have been clear that I cannot help her with that move. In part this is because I think it will have negative consequence and I need to save my own resources for the inevitable move to supportive living. Not always easy to be clear though. Blessings, Oriah

  8. Mystic- p.s.- One of the things that makes it a bit easier for me to have this clarity with my mother is that she does have the financial resources to hire folks to move her - which means my lack of participation in that choice does not take it eliminate it as an option if she wants to pursue it. :-)

  9. Oriah ~ Bingo! - "we are afraid that someone else's choice is going to result in consequences for us." Oh yes, that is exactly it - and - it already has! Thanks for your helpful response - and your humor :) Christine