It’s been four weeks since what we have taken to calling, Black Sunday. On June 14th, my friend who has Stage 4 cancer, called me from the hospital. I hadn’t talked to her since she was admitted and had emergency surgery for a secondary infection. She called me to tell me goodbye. She had decided that she was stopping treatment and going to palliative care. She would just stay in the hospital to make it easier on her family as it wouldn’t be long without the antibiotics to curb the infection.
I remember snippets of our conversation–some special memories, promises I’d made about her children, our cherished gift of our shared love. I struggled to keep the conversation going, just one more little laugh between us, one more confidence, one more assurance that we would always be connected. But other than that she had so few preferences about her ending. Just simple and easy. Whatever we wanted for a celebration of life. And I could sense that I was holding on when she asking for just the opposite.
That night and the next morning was a weeping time, sharing of the news with close friends, texting each other pictures of us together, consoling each other, sitting in silence. And as we had done since she was diagnosed, we howled at 8:00 p.m. facing the far away hospital.
Then the next morning her husband called and said simply, “Linda is back in the game.” Overnight some of the systems that had seemed to shut down were working again. The white cell count was down. The docs assured her that if she wanted it, she could have more time with her family. Ten days later she was released from the hospital. She is home, finding her way back to eating and sleeping and walking on her own. She has lots of preferences again. She wants us to be around and there is much that we can do to assist.
And I..I find that I have been transformed. I almost feel guilty about how much my dear friend is giving me life as she struggles to do the same. Somebody asked what it was like to let her go and then she’s back? Was I resistant or even irritated in some irrational way? I could see what she meant. But somehow in that goodbye phone call, when I at last, had really surrendered my control over keeping her here and had sensed her beyond her bodily form, ready to be formless again, a great peace came, even joy. I remember saying to her, “I think you are going to feel so much more at home where you are going than being here–you’ve always felt part saint to me.” She laughed.
Now a month later, that peace that I thought might be temporary is still here. I sometimes stop and look within deeply to see if I am just in denial, protecting myself from feeling the grief that will come again. But I can’t find it. There’s no sick feeling in my gut anymore. No feeling of waking up with a sense of doom. When I am with her, I see actual luminous light around her. I feel thrilled when I walk in and there she is. Another moment with her or a whole day, just cooking her food she likes or bringing her something to drink or walking the dog or just having one of those conversations about spirituality that we both so love to delve into. I’ve probably said a thousand times or more in my life to “just be present to the moment”. But that was almost me trying to be present, like I should be present because that’s a good thing to do–like “stop and smell the roses.” But now, I simply am living that with her. I am wrapped up in the cherished moment, always sensing it, always grateful, always feeling this ridiculous joy inside just being able to find the right protein bar she can eat.
I don’t know what it’s like for her. She says she made the decision to stay with treatment to give her family a little more time to let her go. She never says she needed it. Although she is stronger every day, it’s incredibly hard still with all the meds and pokes and bandage changes, all the push to eat instead of enjoy eating, all the encouragement to get back up the flight of stairs when just making a loop around the house with her walker takes effort.
The tumors are still there and without the immunotherapy, they have grown a bit from a month ago. Even that news doesn’t strike me in the gut like the last time I heard it. Perhaps it’s no surprise now. Yet also, I have less of a line between good news and bad news. I’ve even let go of that. Who am I to say what is best? For her to stay here or move on to a higher realm and greater purpose? There is a softness about just being here and now, not turning away from reality, letting myself feel what I feel, and watching what grace can do with an open heart. Knowing a different dimension of what I’ve called Love.