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14 February 2024

How meditation practice helped me deal
with my wife’s incurable illness

Bob Sinkewicz

Finding our spiritual home

My wife, Sandy, and I started going to Kadampa meditation classes back in 2000 and in a very short time we both felt that we had found the spiritual home that we had always been searching for, each in our own way. We continued with the classes, went to all the Kadampa International Spring and Summer Festivals, and did retreats at a Kadampa Retreat Centre in Scotland. We found it to be a special blessing that we were on our spiritual journey together as a couple and were able to support each other in our practice and study.

Receiving devastating news!

Six years after we started with the Dharma (Buddhist meditation practice), Sandy was diagnosed with a rare and incurable autoimmune condition that resulted in periodic and progressive bouts of muscular degeneration. Within a few months she could no longer walk and was confined to a wheelchair. This news was really devastating for both of us. After the initial shock wore off a bit, our Dharma practice of the past few years became a true refuge for us. By then each of us had been doing daily meditation practice for some time and now it became even more meaningful in coping with all the practical problems that we faced. I keep remembering that Venerable Geshe-la would say how important it is for us to establish a daily Dharma practice because we simply never know when we might be knocked off our feet by some adversity.

Becoming a full-time care-giver

Over the following years, Sandy progressively lost more of her independence, even her ability to sit up for longer than an hour or so; and in her last two years she was confined to bed and unable even to turn over on her own. Without any really helpful health resources to assist with her care, I became her sole caregiver on a full time basis. I was really fortunate to have my health and the strength to do this for her. All the same, it was a huge challenge to my own self-cherishing. Particularly, in those last two years, Sandy needed almost constant care and I was both mentally and physically exhausted. During this time, I would frequently go back and read Shantideva’s words in the poem the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. I especially liked the verse: “And until all those who are sick have been cured of their illness, may I become their medicine, their doctor, and their nurse.” I did not have a lot of time for formal meditation practice myself. But in a very real way, looking after Sandy became my most important practice.

Staying positive in the face of difficulties

In spite of the difficulties and pain she endured over these years, Sandy was amazingly positive coming from her Dharma practice. Every day she was on her phone, talking or texting to friends and relatives helping them with their problems and offering whatever advice she could. She would never talk about what she was going through and her friends would often say that she simply sounded so normal, just as she had always been. There were of course difficult days – we called them “freak outs” – when the pain was just too much and she felt that she couldn’t stand it any more. But she shared these only with me and I would try to help her through it as best I could. Then the next day she would be back to texting again with friends and back to watching YouTube videos of Venerable Geshe-la’s teachings.

Learning the power of giving

Sandy’s determination to always keep a positive mind was a constant inspiration and support for myself as well. Even near the end, she was determined not to go before all her Hanukkah and Christmas cards were done (where she dictated each personal message and I wrote the cards); and then she had to arrange all the Christmas gifts to be sent out (she shopped, I wrapped). She taught me that always having a mind of giving was important, especially in a time of adversity when it is so easy to get pulled into focusing just on oneself. One of the last things that she did was to order Hanukkah and Christmas cards and wrapping for gifts for me to give the following year. Then she ordered me an abundant supply of Walkers potato chips so that I wouldn’t run short after she was gone. When she was no longer able to sit up and eat, she told me that she felt very happy, even joyful, and that it was her time to go now. And she passed away the following day – I am sure, with Geshe-la at her heart.

Bob Sinkewicz

Bob attends Kadampa Meditation Centre Canada.
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Share Your Dharma Journey

If you have a personal story about the positive impact of Dharma in your life and would like to share it with the community, please feel free to reach out to us. You can submit your story by emailing it to [email protected]. We look forward to hearing from you and sharing your inspiring journey with others.