February is Heart month. This is also when the final clearance of all things Christmas comes off the store shelves and Valentine’s Day celebrations are all around us. For those who grew up in North America you may well remember that day at school when we taped a brown paper lunch bag to the side of our desk and hoped there would at least be one heart in it at the end of the day.
Maybe you had parents like mine who insisted that you give a valentine to each person in your class, keenly aware of how it would feel to look into that brown paper bag at the end of the day see only one or two or even harder yet, none.
While those days may seem like a lifetime ago, and perhaps it has been a lifetime since you thought of your brown paper bag, for me, this is one of my earliest memories of unconditional love.
Whether by luck or design, our Infant and Pregnancy Loss Doula Training Program continues to use that brown paper bag as a way of communicating love, care and compassion. As you may be able to imagine, learning to care for others during the most devastating time of their life is “hard work”. Most of us do not want to even think about what it would be like to lose a baby after birth or during a pregnancy. Yet there are individuals from all walks of life, not only thinking about it, but doing something about it. And the brown paper bag serves an important purpose in reminding each participant that they are not walking the journey of care for others alone.
At the beginning of the training weekend our participants decorate their bags. Throughout the weekend they are filled with beautiful messages and at the end of the training they are lovingly taken down from the spot they occupied. Each person looks forward to the moment when they are able to sit, read and let the words and messages of care and love sink into their hearts. The bags and what they represent are beautiful.
But not all brown paper bags are beautiful, or are they filled with such love. A brown paper bag may be holding the bottle of a person living on the street. That person looks forward to its contents in the same excited and anxious way as our participants, but do we look upon that person in the same way? Unconditional love is easy when we see the good in another. But what about those we or our society may find ourselves passing judgement upon?
What if that brown paper bag is now the cause of someone’s impending death? What if, while the person knows that its contents are killing them, they still must take a drink? We look upon many terminal diagnoses as something that happens “to us”. And as a result find it easy to offer care, compassion and dignity at the end of life. But do we think twice about the person who “did this to themselves”?
Unconditional love first means giving ourselves permission to feel the way we feel. It then helps us start to see things from another’s eyes. It is the practice of seeing through another’s eyes that allows us to see the beauty in everything, everyone, and every circumstance. The true gift of unconditional love is when we find the strength and the courage to respect other’s choices and care for them where they are at, as we then grow in the love of ourselves. Outward expressions of love lead to inward evidence of love.
Care for anyone, at any time; under any roof is how we remind ourselves that we are a source of unconditional love. Every day more and more people are joining our family, willing to help ripple care, compassion and dignity into their communities. Those ripples grow into unconditional “I’ll take care of you” waves of compassion. And the evidence of unconditional love that started for me with the brown paper bag taped to the side of my desk, is also found in the way we as a Home Hospice family ensure no one walks the journey to their death alone.