Helping Yourself Means This

Helping Yourself Means This

Ginger and her son, Michael, just before his lifesaving cardiothoracic surgery in 2008

Ginger and her son, Michael, just before his lifesaving cardiothoracic surgery in 2008

Self-Help Tip of the Week:

That which remains when there is no more grasping, is the Self. ~ Panchardasi


This picture was taken circa 2008.  I was about the business of “letting go” while my 2 year old cheered me on, not knowing he was in the biggest battle of his little life.

Heeding this proverb, or mantra, or whatever you want to call it, is a daily challenge for me.

And on the day this picture was taken, in the dimming of the day on a Virginia mountainside that gingerly nestles the mystery miles of pitch black caves beneath its surface (that is why we were there actually, to go caving), I was in the midst of the biggest challenge of my life in letting go.


It was a bittersweet moment for me. This picture was taken in the last weekend that remained before Michael (in photo), my oldest son, went in for urgent cardiothoracic surgery. That moment in time was very poignant for me – because we knew that practicing letting go could mean losing Michael – the little baby we had waited our whole lives for…

After more than a decade of struggling with infertility, Michael came to us.  And yet it only took a moment, when the cardiologist delivered the news to us, to realize that it could all be gone in an instant.
I had experienced tragic loss and death in my family, multiple times over, and I knew what it was like to lose a child. My aunt had lost her only child, a daughter, and a “sister” to me, to a drunk driver at just 16 years old.

I was forced to let go early on in my life, and in some way, those tragedies prepared me to “let go and let God,” when Michael was diagnosed with a severe heart defect in the spring of 2008.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and here, it is true.  Friends who have seen this picture and know its story say there “is so much captured there – the photographer’s sensitivity, you and your son’s gestures, and the connections, visible and invisible, between all 3 of you.”

There is nothing though that can capture the vulnerability, angst, concern, inability to cry or grieve because my fierce “maternal instinct” kicked into “let’s fix this now” mode, or the many, many prayers that went up, hoping that we would not have to give Michael up so soon.

After all, when I learned I was pregnant with Michael, I promised him to God. You don’t have to believe in God to understand what this means.  To me, I was so thankful that God, the Universe, the Divine, had blessed me with this baby, that I knew the greatest thing I could do would be to present him back to that Power.  If the Universe conspires to help you succeed, in the words of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, and if God does in fact have your best life in mind (which I believe), then I knew it was the right thing to do.

I made that pledge on an ordinary day that I just happened to be at the extraordinary National Cathedral in Washington D.C. In the children’s chapel, before he had even arrived in my arms, I gave Michael back.

And now I was at a crossroads thinking, “be careful what you ask for…”

The moment this photo was taken, and the mere days before when we learned of his dire condition, were filled with one thing: Letting. Go.

And so, I did.

I practiced yoga and I let go.
I played music to help let the grief out, and I let go.
I prayed, and I let go.
I opened my hands and emptied myself out, and I let go.

Life Began Again


Michael just before moving from intensive care to the pediatric unitIn setting our attachments, all attachments free, even to life itself, I got life back. Two fold. My life and Michael’s life.

And it was new. It was unlike any experience I had ever or will ever felt.

The breath I seized as I saw his tiny pediatric bed being wheeled down a corridor that I just happened to glimpse as I looked out a window, down a hallway, through an outside park, and into the window of a corridor some 20 yards away, felt like my first.

I knew it was his bed because it was surrounded by a surgical team and one of them was carrying his Snoopy that he had clutched as the team carried him into surgery.
I knew it was his bed, that it was him, but it was draped in a white sheet. A white sheet.
My heart dropped.
But my panic was quickly sucked out of the air when I saw a plethora of lines and tubes being rolled with the bed. I’ve never been more happy to see the 15 or so lines connected to a child I love so dear.

I knew it was Michael. And in that moment I knew he was coming back to us.

So today, almost 5 years later, I remind myself of this small but earth-shifting quote: That which remains when there is no more grasping, is the Self. ~ Panchardasi

And just like all our lives, the battle that ends isn’t necessarily over.  Michael still has other congenital defects and will require lifelong cardiology attention. There will be more tragedy and loss and hurt in my life, in his life. But if I recite this proverb and keep my faith, I know I can find my full potential and take on whatever life fast pitches my way.  I will teach Michael that too. In the adversity of his heart conditions, he can find great strength, great inspiration, and great power.

Helping yourself means this: Letting go is a lesson that must be relearned – daily.

If you would like to donate to the American Heart Association, Michael is participating in the “Jump Rope for Heart” fundraiser to help other children like himself who have heart disease.  No amount is too small. Even $1 can help save a child’s life. Donate here.

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