I met with two clients last week; both of them women in their late 50s who are in the final stages of cancer. Both are confined to bed. Both are grappling with the nearness of death. And each with a different perspective, but with a common theme that I found compelling.
My job is to give people a creative way of processing what’s going on for them when we meet. The opening this gives them to express a personal truth is a gift they sometimes don’t get in any other way. Especially when it comes to dying.
The first woman has been dealing with her cancer for about a year. It showed up just after she took early retirement from a career she loved. She had already been through numerous surgeries, chemo, many setbacks, and ultimately, the realization that she was not going to get well. She was on an emotional roller coaster, but she was gentle with herself as each wave of it rolled through her.
I asked her what word we could create from, that would describe her experience and allow us to somehow transform it. She didn’t hesitate for a second, offering up the word WHY? As I began making the word visual for her, her thoughts about it began to flow. And as usually happens, she answered her own question. She just hadn’t had an opportunity to express the many meandering thoughts that came together in a cohesive monologue about the journey of her life and the way everything that had happened along the way seemed perfectly timed. Even though she wouldn’t have chosen to die yet, there was peace for her in the fact that everyone in her life would be ok. Had it happened earlier, she wouldn’t have felt that way. But she felt the timing was, as always, divinely ordered.
So her sense of peace came from the feeling that the journey of her life was guided by the grace of things happening in an order that allowed things to work out for the best. I left her room feeling that this little creative moment was part of that. She was able to put into words some of the most important thoughts any of us will ever have, and I knew they would serve her well as her journey progressed.
The second woman was full of profound peace from the minute I walked into her room. She quickly gave me a synopsis of her condition and the medical journey it had created, but I sensed she was in some way removed from it all. I told her she exuded a very relaxed and accepting aura, given all she had just told me. She smiled and said, “yes, I already died once, and I know I have nothing to fear.”
So our time together was off and running. She recounted her experience of dying on the operating table 30 years ago. Her story was similar to many others I’ve heard and read about through the years, and it ended as they always do: she did not want to come back, but was told it wasn’t her time yet. She had just given birth to a child before this happened. She knew during her near-death experience that she would be leaving her baby behind, but the feelings of peace, love, freedom and acceptance she experienced were too wonderful to willingly give up. She even tried to reason with and trick the spirits into letting her stay. But alas, back she came.
Her baby is now 30 years old and doing well after some pretty tumultuous years. Her difficult marriage to an alcoholic came to an end. Her mother is taking care of her, and her siblings are hovering around to support them both as her life winds down. She is not without emotions about the finality of her journey, but she knows what she came back to do, she did her best to fulfill it, and she knows where she is going. The sense of timing, once again, was part of what allowed her to relax into her departing days.
Time is a huge concept in this life. We never feel we have enough of it, especially when we are approaching death. But these women each had a perspective on time that is a great reminder for all of us. It’s not how much we have, it’s how meaningful it is that matters most.