Handling devastating news about a loved one, how mindfulness can help

A few weeks ago I received some heartbreaking news about a friend. I have not felt strong enough to write about this until now. Lets just say the dreaded c word is back in her life and it has spread to other parts of her young 30 something body. When she told me the news I was naturally devastated and overwhelmed with feelings of frustration, anger and helplessness.

My instant reaction was to cry and talk about it with my husband over and over again. The important thing was to let the feelings out and not suppress them. The following day we went on a drive to the beach for some fresh air and a change of scene. On the drive my husband intentionally played sombre music to help me to unearth my feelings. He explained that when he is sad he always allows himself some time to just wallow in his feelings for a while. Sometimes I feel my husband is teaching me mindfulness without even realising it.

I also read something relevant in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, ‘Full Catastrophe Living: How to  cope with pain and illness using mindfulness meditation’. He explains that compassion is “…having the wisdom to know its not up to you to fix the world for others…you can acknowledge the pain…you can want to help…but you have to recognise that you can’t change other people’s experience of the world…’. This resonated with me as not only was I sad about the uncertainty of how long I get to share the world with her but I was also on a hamster wheel of thoughts regarding what my friend was going through, how she was dealing with every day, what pain she was experiencing, physically and emotionally. I realised I was shouldering some pain that was not mine to shoulder. I can only do so much for her – I can offer to help in any way I can, I can listen, I can be at the end of a phone call, I can acknowledge the downright hideousness of the situation but I cannot make the c word go away as much as it hurts.

I also realised that I wasn’t being kind to myself. Deep down I was internalising feelings of guilt that my body is healthy right now and that I can spend time with my beautiful son without physical or emotional pain. I only realised this after practising mindfulness – sitting with and exploring my painful thoughts, listening to them and accepting them for what they truly are. So I wasn’t being kind to myself which also isn’t mindful as in order to nourish others you need to nourish yourself. So here I am realising again that mindfulness is a long and never ending journey where you’re constantly learning and growing. I am so thankful to have mindfulness in my life to help me to handle the horrendous bits as well as the wonderful stuff in life’s great journey.