My grandmother is in hospice care. Unsurprisingly, it's bringing up a lot of emotions--experiences that I thought I had worked through, old grief from other losses being revisited. For the past few weeks, my grandma has been in my thoughts and even in my dreams, but I didn't realize it would be this soon. In truth, I wasn't paying it much attention. So when I got the call from my parents and reflected on these past few weeks, I knew it was my grandma visiting me to say goodbye and my grandpa, whose energy I've also felt, getting ready to welcome her home.
I immediately said yes when my dad asked me if I wanted to go with him to visit her, an instinct carried forth all of my life. It wasn't that I wanted or needed to see her, but I wanted to be there for my parents--and I think I felt a sense of responsibility towards my grandmother, too. I visited my maternal grandmother in the nursing home to say goodbye, sat with my grandpa when he was in hospice care, and said I love you to every single pet--from childhood until last year when I lost my beloved Riley--as they closed their eyes and passed over. All my life, I’ve just wanted the ones I love to know how much they’re loved. All my life, I've wanted to protect the people I care about from any pain, any suffering, for them to know that they're never alone.
I spent the morning reflecting on the period of my life nearly twenty years ago, when I was still in college and had lost my grandmother, grandfather, and three beloved family dogs all in the span of a few short years. I reflected on the I love yous that were shared, on the warmth of family and togetherness I felt at the funerals, at the absolute knowing even then that the body was merely a vessel and they were still with us. But as I read back through the pages of my journal, I noticed one pattern: how my heart broke not so much for myself, and not so much for the ones we lost, but for my grieving family.
This past year, I’ve been learning how to release that responsibility, to not carry the pain of others. It feels uncomfortable, even selfish. I think so many of us as empaths and highly-sensitive persons carry this belief that because we feel so deeply, it’s our responsibility to protect, save, and take on that weight. It’s a savior complex combined with martyrdom—sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others--but rather than coming from egotistical heroics, it’s a well-intentioned desire to help. But this template is just that—a template we’ve carried from the onset, potentially even through lifetimes. It’s one that we’re releasing as we recognize that we’re not here to change, fix, or even heal others. Even as teachers and guides, we’re only walking with others along their own journey, escorting them as they find their own path.
Just as they are helping us to find ours.
When I spoke to my mom this morning, I knew I couldn’t go to see my grandma. As decided as I had been the day before, I recognized that was coming from a pattern. I’d already been saying my goodbye, and I didn’t need to be there. In truth, I wouldn’t be going to see her for myself or even for her, but because I wanted to be there for my dad. When my mom told me that she was accompanying my dad, I could feel something shift within me, feel some of that weight release.
A few hours later, my mom called me to say she was glad I didn’t go. My grandmother was in such a deep sleep that she didn’t wake up even for their short visit, and I wouldn’t have recognized her, changed as she’d become in her age and decline. My mom, in her caring for me, wanted me to have happier memories of my grandma. My mom then reiterated what I’d been feeling in my heart: that I’d taken on that responsibility for others my whole life, but that my parents were my grandmother’s children and it wasn’t meant for me to shoulder all of that grief. My parents beautifully pushed back and challenged me to keep letting go of feeling responsible for everyone I loved.
It’s painful for me to experience this as I see this lesson reflected in other situations in my life. I feel selfish and helpless as I watch my beloved ones struggle. But I’m beginning to understand it now from the higher awareness. I can’t keep people from feeling pain, not just because that causes me pain and I can’t physically or energetically take that on anymore, but because I’m not supposed to. God’s got this. I don’t have to carry the burden for others because God already is. By me carrying it and taking on others’ responsibilities—even as well-intentioned as it is—I’m just preventing others from learning their lessons or having their experiences or healing on their own and thus recognizing their own journey.
Just as I have my own.
I love the people in my life so much and it’s hard to let that go. I want to nurture them, embrace them, love the pain right out of them. But I’m learning I can do that from a healthy place. I’m learning the value of self-responsibility. I’m learning that I can support and love, but that I can’t live anyone’s lives or experiences for them. And I never want to take away from someone the opportunity to grow in their own self-empowerment and strength.
I feel this transforming inside of me, feel like I’m breaking through to this release. This is the hardest one yet and there are so many emotions I’m still trying to understand—guilt, helplessness, and my own grief at these losses.
But I’m surrendered.
A few weeks ago, I had a quiet conversation with God. “Please take these burdens,” I begged him. “I can’t carry them anymore.” I felt loving energy sweep over me and the gentle response, “you were never meant to.”
Now I hear God whispering once again:
“I’ve got you, too.”