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When illness, tragedy and grief pushes one towards personal transformation

In this article, I want to share with you on how illness, personal tragedy, grief and loss can become a catalyst that eventually drive a person towards personal transformation and spiritual development. The journey would often take years with lots of ups and downs. It started for a friend of mine who was diagnosed with nephritis and eventually cured herself 10 years later.

Just about 2 weeks ago, a close friend of mine (let’s call her G) lost her father to complication from multiple sclerosis after losing her mother earlier in March.

Sometimes it comes as a shock when a caregiver, who is more healthy passes away before the sick person. In the case of G, her mother who was a caregiver to her dad who was bedridden, passed away suddenly in March this year. Her dad’s health went downhill after that because it impacted his will to live even though he had loving grown up children.

However when I talked to my friend, she shared with me that how she was able to help her parents with her spiritual practice.

Like me, my friend was not a spiritual person by nature. Both of us developed our respective spiritual paths to cope with life’s extremes down.

I remember the first time I met G was in the pantry of my former company in year 2000. That time, I had to switch from regular hours to shift working from 3pm to 12am to take care of my mom who had to be hospitalized as she had became very weak from radiotherapy treatments and could not sit through the journey to and fro from hospital. Furthermore, my dad had just passed away unexpectedly from stroke. The whole office knew about it and had felt very sorry for me.

G was working on shift hours and was my senior as she had joined the company a few years before me. I always remembered the first time she approached me, wearing an apple green maternity dress. She brought homecooked dinner to eat and she approached and asked me about my situation. I just blurted out and she kept quiet as there was nothing much anyone could say. After my mom completed her treatment, I transferred back to regular office hours.

Sometime in 2002 to 2003, I was transferred to shift hours. I became closer friends with G when we used to eat dinner together in the pantry when we were on afternoon shift. We chatted a lot and shared about our lives.

Then I got transferred out to regular shift again and did not bump into G often until she got transferred back into regular shift. In 2004, I found out that G had been diagnosed with nephritis which means her kidneys were failing. Actually she only told me after I asked her what was her secret to her sudden weight loss. Her complexion was pale with dark rings around her eyes. She looked tired, down and was absent from time to time from sick leave.

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In 2005, I was transferred into the training division to be in charge of the department’s information portal which was being used by hundreds of staff. Eventually I was tasked to issue communication and do process changes as well as liaising with other departments to obtain information. I was performing very well that my work got recognized by the Asia Pacific region and that other custodians were referring to my site as an example to develop for their own country.

My immediate boss, knowing my perfectionist nature and bad temper (I had very bad temper in the past) allowed me to choose an assistant of my choice. She knew if she appointed a staff of her choice, hell will break loose if I could not get along with the staff.

During a teambuilding event, my head of department formally announced that the position of my assistant become available. G was my room mate in the teambuilding trip. After the announcement when we got back to our room, she quietly asked me if I could give her a chance.

I was surprised because she never had interest in IT and to manage portals. She said she was ill and had to look for a way to get out. She assured me she would do her best….she just wanted to stop being in the frontline because the job was too stressful.

Initially when I told my boss, my boss hesitated due to G’s high unscheduled absence from work. But my boss also wanted to keep her word. In most companies, if you are requesting for a productive staff, that staff’s boss would likely not release the staff unless it is a management directive. However we had no issue to get G as she had high unscheduled absences (MC).

G turned out to be the best assistant I’ve ever had. She understood my way of working. After transferring to the unit, her unscheduled absence dropped to negligible (she only had to take MC if her migraine became unbearable).

This goes to say that sometimes a capable and talented staff may not be performing due to wrong job fit. If you place the staff in the proper environment and the right motivation, the staff may exceed your expectation.

With more space and flexibility to work, G was able to concentrate in healing herself. She had been depressed for a while after her diagnosis constantly asking “why me? why me?!” and feeling depressed at the prospect she may not live long. But eventually she toughen herself up because she made the firm decision that she wanted to live to see her only son grow up.

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G is one tough cookie. At first she tried to steer clear of any food that is bad for her kidneys….so much that she was eating only a big red apple for lunch. Then later she took Chinese medicine which made her face and body bloated (I suspected it could be either due to the steroids or that her kidneys were intolerant).

Eventually, she figured that battling the illness requires chances in one’s outlook. She started reading books from Louis Hay and attending talks on “Courses in Miracles” by Dr Alan. She also started reading a lot of other motivational books.

Slowly, her outlook changed to more positive and cheerful. She would share with me each time she returned from a course or her urine & blood test results. Her methods were working because her condition stabilized.

Eventually I left the company in 2008 and she took over my position. The thing about corporate life is that if you are leaving without a job, you would find many people do not have time to keep in touch. But G constantly kept in touch with me.

Both of us were pursuing separate spiritual paths but we often discussed and shared on our experiences. We would chat on the phone a few months once, often during her commute back home from work (she had to take 2 trains and then walk a distance back home).

After about 10 years from her diagnosis, the specialist declared that she had been cured of nephritis as her urine results were no longer showing presence of blood and protein.

She had read many books and explored many teachings. Eventually, she moved from new age to deeper into Tibetan Buddhism about a few years ago. She also visited India and personally met with the Dalai Lama twice with her family.

She told me about two years ago that she realized she was put in this world for a purpose but did not know for what. And she is trusting that the answer would come to her eventually. In our chat this month, she told me she had finally found her path.

Actually, spiritual practice is very important – one should not practice only when one is hit with problems. Each day, just put in 10 minutes a day for chanting, meditation or prayer….according to your religious faith. Like what a few wise persons had said, ‘what do you mean you have no time for practice? Do you have time to breathe? If you do, then you surely can make time for spiritual practice’.

For me, meditation classes that I had attended on Sunday mornings during my final year in university saved me from going into hysteria when I had to manage my dad’s funeral with my mom still in hospital.

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Eventually G met a good local teacher whom she had affinity with who was able to teach her chanting. She said she is not the meditating type so chanting works out better for her.

With her spiritual practice, she was able to help both her parents pass on peacefully as she held on and guided them in their last moments. It is the best that any child can give to his/her parents.

G told me that during her father’s funeral and the eulogy, it was not sad. The family spoke of how her father meant to them.

G would not be who she is today had she not been diagnosed with nephritis.  She told me herself that such events are a blessing in disguise. Her diagnosis woke her up and made her life’s priorities very clear. It was the beginning of her spiritual journey, one that spanned more than 10 years with ups and downs until she was able to find a path suitable for her.

That is why, please be patient when the answers that you are searching for are not immediate.

Sometimes a diagnosis of a life threatening illness would be the push needed for the person a chance to discover and lead a life aligned to his/her core values. Yes, it will start with the “why me?”, depression… then searching and hitting brick walls. Please don’t give up. I have hit a few brick walls that I had wanted to give up but eventually I did manage to find a way out. Then just when I thought I got things figured out, I would feel the carpet pulled out from under me and I would lose my balance again. It happens and the span of both G and my journey even though separate, do share many similarities going through the span of more than 10 years.

We can only do our best. Should our time on this earth be up, the very least, the spiritual practice that we choose would give us the calmness and peace when it is time to say goodbye.

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