Companions on the Journey
The word “journey” evokes a question in me. Am I a tourist or am I a pilgrim? As a tourist, I travel in order to visit places away from home, mostly for pleasure. As a pilgrim, I travel in search of something—perhaps I visit holy sites like a monastery or an ashram, places of healing, or places that have special meaning. Two films come to mind. The movie Eat, Pray, Love tells the story about a woman who has lost her way and is intentionally seeking healing and wholeness throughout her travels. The Way is a film about a man who walks the Camino de Santiago trying to come to healing and peace with the complexities of his relationship with his son who has died. Both characters are pilgrims—on journeys of discovery and direction seeking healing and wholeness. They leave home and work through their various life experiences as they travel; their journeys are both inward and outward. Most of us journey right here at home. We are challenged by numerous life experiences; some of them can be quite devastating.
Imagine leaving your house in the morning for a book club and never going home again after suffering a debilitating stroke—which is my mother-in-law’s experience. The loss, grief, and dying that goes on in a person who has become wheelchair bound and utterly dependant on others, especially when that person was totally independent in her own home and the hostess of the greatest dinner parties. A life in one of the best long-term care facilities is not a life according to her. Her journey is certainly a difficult one. After two years of being empty, the house she had lived in for over fifty years must be sold. The anxiety is overwhelming her, and this seems to be the last straw. How can I be there for this person when everything offered is rejected, demeaned, or considered a personal affront? I realise that she is angry at life, at her diminishment, and her paralysis not at me—she may even be angry at God for not giving her a miracle. I love her and know that all I can do is be a loving and compassionate listener. This journey is a difficult one and it intersects with my journey profoundly as she is family.
Imagine the struggle of travelling 2,800 kilometres to empty out a house where a person has lived for over fifty years. We are here for a month. Sorting out what may be important to her, what to donate to various charities, what to bring to her room, what to give to the children and grandchildren, or what to put into storage because she isn’t ready to relinquish her treasures is extremely difficult. Because of the love, I often find myself in tears with her, especially today through her anxiety attack, which had me running for the nurse. Being a companion on her journey, criss-crosses my journey. I am not in denial—I am a mess (which is okay for me). I am feeling everything, and it is raw and honest and painful. Loving another on my life’s journey is a gift I cherish. We cry together and console one another. Like in the films mentioned above, we do not journey alone.
Linda Labelle received her spiritual direction certification from Regis College (Jesuit) at the University of Toronto. She has provided spiritual direction for over thirty years. Linda is associated with Queen’s House Retreat and Renewal Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, where she offers retreats and workshops. She also works as a volunteer with Syrian refugees.