Feeling shattered

My friend said he felt “shattered” that his 98-year-old mother no longer recognized him.  I sent this this reply.

I urge you not to feel shattered. First, this really has nothing to do with you. Your mother is ill, due to completely organic circumstances in her brain. She is not rejecting you, any more than she would be if she lost her sight and couldn’t see you.

Second, it might help to look at the word shattered. What’s broken here? Not you. It is your accustomed relationship with her, which is no longer possible due to her illness, and the familiar feeling of that relationship as it used to be, and its connection to your own childhood, that are broken and no longer work. So, as usual, for you and for everyone, when we examine suffering (yours, I mean – hers is a different question) we find attachment at the root of it, just like the Buddha said. To avoid suffering in this situation you have to pry your viewpoint out of an irrecoverable past and return it to the present, where you actually are. It is still a sad situation, but not shattering when seen as it is, rather than how it no longer is what it used to be.

I know I sound like a broken record – suffering always comes back to attachment (Second Noble Truth). But I didn’t make that up – it always comes back to that because that’s the Dharma. And as always, the way to transcend suffering is to transcend attachment (Third Noble Truth). And by this I don’t mean your attachment to your mother, I mean attachment to things being as they used to be, but have now irretrievably changed, through no one’s fault, because everything changes and is impermanent. “What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field.” Isaiah 40:6. Thus I have heard.