Aug2011 – Even though nothing is ok, all is ok.
We are sitting in a Community Therapy circle of thirteen. To my right, there is a new mother who is open and expressive, to my left there is a mother who is the exact opposite.
This mother, Eida*, has been with us for a year and always reacted dismissively of Community Therapy, as she stated knowingly, with pursed lips, that no counseling was going to get her out of her difficult situation. ´I have been depressed for 8 years,´ she would rasp through pursed lips, ´nothing can change me.´
As I arrive at the NGO and go towards the room for Community Therapy, Eida is not even inside. Instead, she is on the black leather couch in the tiny hall, holding an enormous baby. ´Come on inside,´ I urge her. ´I am minding the baby for the other mother,´ she answers aggressively. ´Bring the baby,´ I tell her. ´No´ she says, ´he makes a lot of noise.´ I suggest that the baby go to one of the volunteers, but again she rejects the idea forcefully. ´To change, you have to want to change,´ I say to myself silently, touching her lightly on the shoulder and going into the group inside.
Five minutes into the Community Therapy, Eida comes into the room and hands the baby to his mother. I smile to myself. This in itself is a small miracle. With some coaxing, she states what is worrying her at the moment. Her sister is ill, very ill. She has a problem with her kidneys and has a disease whereby she ages prematurely. Her sister has also participated in the programme and I was surprised when she told me she was only 31. She looks in her fifties with a lined face and an emaciated body. ´She is in hospital now again and is down to 29 kilos,´ Eida tells me, looking at me defiantly like a truculent teenager. ´She needs a transplant, but she probably wouldn´t survive the operation.´ Everything is said in a curt, aggressive tone. The silent ´fuck you- fuck life´ is almost audible.
Eida´s story is chosen as the focus for the session. She looks at me quizzically when I ask her to elaborate, but seemingly despite herself, she begins to answer. Words pour out of her and her tone softens. ´It is hard on everyone,´ she says, ´my father is an alcoholic and my mother already has a hard time. My other sister has the same premature aging illness and she finds it difficult. So, I take care of the two kids. They sleep at home with their Dad, but I mind them until he comes back from work and do all the washing and cooking for them.´ Marilys, the co-facilitator, clarifies with a question, ´so there are two things worrying you; both the illness of your sister and the extra load of work that there is for you.´ ´Yes,´ she says, bows her head and goes quiet. She looks to me now like a scared woman with the weight of the world painfully cutting grooves into her young shoulders. I soften to her. Others in the circle ask her questions and she tells us a catalogue of challenges that her sister has had to face, from having a child taken away, black-magic threats from an ex-lover, illness upon illness for herself and a child living with illness. I imagine her now, down to 29 kilos, her own young children huge at her bedside beside her. I am struck by the sheer volume of challenges that this tiny, almost-skeletal woman has been faced with in her life.
´Is your family more united because of your sister´s illness?´ I ask, looking for the positive changes that often come hand-in-hand with suffering. ´Yes,´ she responds tentatively, ´we have to be. We all help eachother out. And because she was sick, I found the daughter that was taken away from her, she is 16 now and she met her mother. It´s not easy for them with all the history, but I keep in contact with her.´
I thank Eida for her openness and ask her now to listen to the others who will talk of their experiences. There is an audible sigh as I invite people from the group to talk of similar challenges they have faced and what they have done to overcome them. Many of the group share their experience: the woman whose father spent months between life and death, needing an operation but unlikely to survive it; the woman whose brother was killed suddenly in an accident, the woman whose sister has a chronic life-threatening illness, the woman whose husband died suddenly. Each one of us talks of the same overwhelming feelings of helplessness, of sadness, of guilt and of confusion at God or existence. And when pushed, each of us tries to express how or why we did not curl into a ball and die too.
It is summed up by one participant´s talk of finding peace through sensing that we are spiritual entities beyond the mortal situation or experiences of our lives: ´even though nothing is ok,´ she said searching for the right words and then sighing, ´all is ok.´ Another participant stands in our farewell circle, where we stand with our arms around eachother. ´What I am taking away from today,´ she says, looking around the tight circle, ´Is the sense that we are all on the same journey, we all experience such similar things. It feels like we are one.´
We congratulate Eida on her courage, on her active compassion for her sister and her children. As she cries gently, we send our love to her and her sister and offer our material help through the NGO. The heaviness of the session is lightened by an off-key song and shared tears and we all leave with the gentle voice reassuring us, ´even though nothing is ok, all is ok.´
*name changed to avoid exposure