I had a profound personal event recently. Although my business commitments have drawn me back to the day-to-day, my thoughts drift back to a different place. Now I realize I was able to witness, through our professional lens of facilitation and public participation, an insight that I am moved to share with you. Apologies up front if it is painfully personal for some.
My mother was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer just over three weeks ago. This type of cancer is very aggressive. At 87, her health condition is not conducive to treatment, so basically she has been on her final journey. As her principle caregiver I have been honoured to witness this journey, and today I was privileged to to see her condition through professional eyes. So much so that I feel compelled to capture my thoughts for your consideration and hopefully benefit. I am writing this after returning from the hospice.
A few days ago mom’s calcium levels were off the charts. Following her care plan, the doctors advised the she be treated with a “P” substance, the name of which I can’t remember the name and couldn’t pronounce anyway. Its purpose is to stabilize the calcium levels and bring back a more normal level of cognition, so that we could talk – exchange ideas and emotions. The treatment worked, but only marginally, but in that moment I experienced a profound understanding that I can only fully grasp now.
At that time I knew I was having the last coherent conversation that I would ever have with my mother. Tonight, in the realization that I was right, I am dwarfed by my insight. I so valued every word she struggled to voice, every movement of her lips into a smile, the flutter of her eyelids to know she was feeling something , the movement of her hands or head to know she was wanting to give expression to her ideas.
Not in that moment, but upon reflection I thought about my practice as a facilitator and a public engagement professional. I thought about all the participants who didn’t or couldn’t give voice to their emotion, their ideas, their aspiration – because we were obsessed with managing the agenda. I thought about the body language of a silent stakeholder, begging to be asked what they feel. I thought about the unasked questions for lack of time. What does this mean to me? Something I always knew; the power of presence. Of being in tune and touch with that person in front of you.
In that hospital room I saw and felt a presence, a place, a person that perhaps no one else saw or felt. Upon reflection, what gave me that insight was to try to see and feel what my mom was seeing and feeling. Empathy seems like such an insufficient word. But to be present and fully engaged was at once empowering and peaceful. I am writing these thoughts in public in the hope that I can hold onto this insight, this feeling, to help me be better for the people, the stakeholders, I can help in the future. Maybe my thoughts might help you, too.