The Aikido of Hospice Care

“They tell me I only have weeks, or maybe months to live.”

My friend has tears in her eyes as she tells me this. Her parents, primary caregivers for months now, sit on either side of her with pained expressions. Their daughter is in hospice care. They are her escorts to the grave. And all four of us sitting here in her apartment this evening knows it.

I notice a thought rise up: This is not okay. She should not be dying yet; she’s 12 years younger than me. And I realize that, once again, I’m blaming uke.

Uke grabbed my wrist incorrectly. Uke grabbed the wrong wrist. Uke should have grabbed my wrist with more/less energy.

I am arguing with reality. Responding this way, I put myself at odds with what truly IS in the moment. By overlooking this opportunity to agree with my partner’s ki, I create conflict. I am unwittingly attempting to impose my will upon this moment when I could be treating it with acceptance and kindness.

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Sitting on the couch next to my friend, I look around and take a deep breath. As I open myself more fully to the present moment, I become aware of the sound of her oxygen machine turning on and off, over and over. Tubes. Morphine. The changes in the contours of her face. The color and texture of her hair. The brightness of her eyes. The color of her skin. The shape and size of her body. Her speech.

I’m curious, so I ask her how she feels about all of this. About having cancer. About dying. What is it that you want your parents to know? What is it that you want to say that you have not said yet?

Before she can respond, her father begins talking. He talks about her achievements. He talks about how proud he is. He speaks softly, and he speaks at length. His heart is breaking, and I can see it. He is in his 70’s and he is walking what must be one of the most painful journeys a parent can ever experience.

I find myself blaming uke again. He should let his daughter express her truth. He is trying to distract her from her pain because he doesn’t want to face his own pain. He should be handling this differently.

But this is simply me arguing with reality again. And I catch it just a little more quickly than before. My aikido is beginning to bleed off the mat and into parts of my life I never expected.

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I think of kneeling across from uke in suwari waza. Uke grabs both of my wrists and I start pushing and pulling, trying to execute a technique; trying to do it *extra* good this time!

“Ohhhh… you’re using so much muscle right now,” my Sempai tells me. And she’s right. My habitual response to conflict: How can I get out of this predicament? How can I defeat this opponent and avoid pain and suffering?

We reset and she grabs my wrists again. I shift my focus to kindness. How can I connect more fully with this situation? How can I more openly and completely accept and embrace these current conditions, which are true regardless of what I think or feel in this moment?

Uke smiles as she loses her balance and is smoothly pinned. I’m smiling, too.

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Back in my friend’s apartment, the dinner plates have been cleared away and we’re sitting around the table, laughing and remembering good times. My friend is exhausted, and it’s time to say good night. As the evening draws to a close, I ask her what she wishes for in the world.

She answers without hesitation.

“More kindness.”

Tim started practicing aikido in June of 2016, at the age of 48. He is currently ranked 3rd kyu.