Lessons on compassion and chiropractic from the day my father died.

by Caroline von Fluegge-Chen

Lessons on compassion and chiropractic from the day my father died.

I remember the day my father died. The moment was coming. It had been a long three-year battle fighting cancer. Less than a week earlier, I visited with dad right before it was apparent that hospice care would be the next step. Luckily our relationship was complete – no loose ends. Sentiments of gratitude and love had been expressed repeatedly over the years. Sometimes I think dad got it – hopefully letting the words sink in. Most often, he covered his softer side with a thick coat of shellac as not to appear vulnerable.  

When I got The Phone Call I was in the middle of adjusting someone. My iPhone was ringing – an insistent demand for attention which came from the back office. I put the patient’s head down and ran to check the voice message. I saw the caller ID. It was my stepmother – or as I think of her, the person my father married later in life. There was no use listening to her recorded words. My hunch that today would be the day was correct.

I adjusted two more people in a way that can only be described as mechanically. I was going through the act of a task I’ve done thousands of times before – but without the emotional connection of intent. It’s like driving. Once you’ve been behind the wheel of a car a billion times, your brain goes on autopilot and you have no idea how you got from point A to point Z.

As I walked through the parking deck by my office, I popped a piece of gum in my mouth, hoping the biting peppermint flavor would quench the dry stale taste of my tired breath. The wrapper fell to the ground. I thought, “Oh crap, I better pick it up. Dad is watching – eye in the sky for sure.” Omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent – or something like that.

My gas tank was nearly on empty. Go to the gas station. Oh great – doing a chore was the last thing I was in the mood for. I pulled into QuikTrip. Yes, that’s how you spell it – not a typo this time.  I had to Google it. Just like when I wasn’t sure how to spell Chick fil-A – names of businesses you see all of the time, but when you actually write the name of the corporation, the words seem all wrong.

So I stood there on this bleak day in February pumping gas. As I looked around at the other equally bored looking people also filling up their tanks, several thoughts came to mind. It’s so weird – one day we’re doing the most mundane tasks thinking we have all of the time in the world, the next day we may not be living. It’s so weird, part two – not one person standing just feet from me knows that my father passed away an hour ago. From the outside, I look like anyone else leaning against my car, gas pump nozzle (or whatever it is called) in hand, squeezing that lever thing-y, waiting for that click indicating the tank is full.

No one knew about my internal struggle of the moment.  I wasn’t sure if my heart would crack wide open with grief, or if I should allow that numb feeling of disbelief to seal my emotions with dense layer spackle. Likewise, I had no idea what was truly going in the lives of my fellow QuikTrip compadres. Who is going through a divorce? Who just landed a big fat deal? Who was abused last night? Who started a new job today? Who is struggling with financial difficulties? Who just found out the pregnancy test is positive? Who lost their purpose in life? Who started Weight Watchers for the tenth time?  Who has children they worry about constantly? Who won a scholarship this morning? Who was diagnosed with cancer today?

We never know what truly lies behind the façade of “everything is fine, just fine…fine…fine” – polished smile, socially appropriate reactions and all. I am just as guilty of bounding into the exam room with the enthusiasm of a golden retriever when meeting a new patient, not realizing this person may have a greater burden to carry than a crick the neck or a tight hamstring. This was apparent when a new practice member informed me he was in the midst of cancer treatment.

The week of his diagnosis, his girlfriend left him and his mother died. All of a sudden, the tone in the room shifted. It wasn’t, “Hey…welcome to Balance Atlanta, what brought you to the office…how can I help you?” Instead, time stood still. The room was quiet. And two people connected, eye-to-eye, knee-to-knee, hearts wide open. “How can I serve you?” Those five words spoke my purpose.

Because true chiropractic care is about service to another human being – to free a central nervous system of physical, emotional and chemical stress – allowing the soul to live with freedom, joy, self-expression – no matter what the circumstances may be. An adjustment is an act of benevolent intention to bring out more of what is working right, to trust in the innate abilities of both mind and body for the greater good. It is fueled by the wisdom of our teachers – living or deceased – to ignite the potential of future generations (starting with that of our own children). May the flames of greatness not be dimmed – even when life throws painful punches.

And that is why I am a chiropractor who adjusts families, starting with the littlest, youngest and most vulnerable. Balance Atlanta is for everyone. Welcome to the family.