There is so much going on these days that I’ve considered turning the Mindfulness Meter down a bit. Graduations, transitions, rollercoasters, new initiatives, everything growing or declining, coming or going, thriving or not. Through it all are the dimensions of impermanence: here today gone tomorrow. And at three and a half years of practicing living as though this was my last year to live, each moment holds within it the now and the forever. The sense of ‘yes’, present in all I do, this might be my last great adventure of this life.
Today I had the privilege of being with a woman who has been struggling with accepting the imminence of her own death. She has a Stage 4 Cancer, received chemotherapy and radiation for nine months, then fell and broke her left upper femur. After nine weeks of Physical Therapy, 3 in hospital, 5 in extended care, a suggestion for Palliative Care was offered and received with kicking, screaming and gnashing of teeth. Neither her family nor the circus of health care professionals parading through her care and treatment succeeded in having ‘the discussion’ with her. And yes, this makes me sad, because I read all the physician’s notes, nurse’s notes, interdisciplinary care conference notes, transfer orders, intake forms, and daily care flow sheets and there was, only, one sign that someone acknowledged what others could not: “although it may be unrealistic, patient still wants to return to her home [and live independently]”. And then, in a confluence of events, things said and unsaid, the crisis was born.
It’s so sad because no one asked the important questions. Even as the crisis was on it’s way to passing, and a decision had been made, she continued to express her intention to go home after her leg healed. As we held hands, her cold, bony ones enveloped in my fleshy warm ones, I asked if she had any idea why the leg was healing so slowly. “It’s because of the poison that was put into my body and the radiation”. After a brief silence, she added, “I know it’s the cancer that will get me but I don’t even think about it much anymore. It’s just there doing it’s thing.” Sounds like an adventure you’re on, I suggest. And with a contented smile she informed, “It’s a mystery, a mysterious adventure”. She was ready for hospice care; I hope her family is.
This evening I received a FaceTime call from our 7 yr old to tell me that Lucas died. Lucas has always been the quieter of two pet rats. Marcos always took care of Lucas. If there were treats around, Marcos made sure that Lucas got some. It was fascinating to watch. I do believe that rats have gotten a bad rap. They really are incredibly smart animals, and they have plenty of personality too. Our special girl told me about how Lucas hadn’t eaten in two days, how he started breathing with quick, shallow breaths, and how Marcos stayed with him, his body close and nose resting on his friend. She described what it looked like when death took Lucas’ last exhale to wherever it goes. And then she said “so now there’s a dead rat in the garbage”.
I’m sure I didn’t keep quite a straight face – it is FaceTime – and then we laughed, and talked about Lucas’ spirit, and how precious he was to us, and how important it is to give Marcos extra cuddling time because he’s going to miss Lucas most of all. Lucas and Marcos will remain important parts of our stories. Similar to the Lucas and Marcos after whom they were named.
Our children grew up with animals, and the continuous change through the life cycle. One of our famous kid quotes was our 5 year old declaring that “it must be Spring” because the cat had kittens. In perspective, there had only been 4 Springs in her life, and this may have been the only time the cat had kittens two years in a row. We had animals for pets and animals for food and wild animals with whom we had to co-exist. We buried pets in the yard, ate the food animals, and witnessed the wild ones live the saga of predator, prey, and carrion eater. When relatives died we mourned, as we did for Lucas. We were compassionate with each other as we went through the losses, each in our own way. It’s comforting to see empathy, compassion, the ability to mourn gracefully, and yes, even laughter and light-hearted banter in the remembering of the losses, in our children and grandchildren. It’s also comforting to see our 7 yr old sincerely ask questions and have them answered skillfully. And through the process, begin to build the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to respect, appreciate, and live life from beginning to end. It’s comforting to know that my family is prepared to speak for me when I can no longer speak for myself. I also think it’s a bit comforting for them to know, that whatever results from a decision they’ve made on my behalf, I accept, and appreciate, unconditionally. They know, that similar to every roller coaster ride and life crisis we’ve been through together, I see entering death as an adventure, a mysterious adventure.
Adventure and Mystery Abound
I was definitely over-stimulated after a wild weekend of experiences. The responsibility lies solely with me. I had set the Mindfulness Meter on sensitive. That was my intention because I wanted to be as present as I could to everyone and everything around me. Little did I realize the lingering effect on my Chi.
Arriving at Tai Chi class, 2 days later, I knew I was loaded with stories, sensations, and energy. I was anticipating the sorely needed balancing power of the exercise. A large group had convened that morning and my ‘habitual’ spot in the studio was already occupied. Undeterred, I squeezed in elsewhere, seriously believing I had everything under control.
The Tai Chi ‘set’ involves 108 moves. By the seventh move, my arms and steps were encroaching into other’s space, and I adjusted. It was probably after the third invasion that the thought crossed my mind that it wasn’t just my body getting in people’s way. My first thought was that my ego was just too outsized today and that it needed to get smaller, quickly. I loosened my ‘tiger’s mouth’, and breathed the ego in. It was barely a momentary relief before I realized that it wasn’t the ego. It was the Chi – the Life Force, and it was bouncing around the room! At some risk, I confess that I actually ‘sensed’ colorful spheres of light swirling that felt like the Chi. I glanced over my left shoulder and there was Big Rich, all pink-faced and grinning. My 91 yr old gentleman friend smiled knowingly and moved further out of my way. I still considered this a local phenomenon until … our Teacher lost her place in the sequence. A wave of confusion rolled, tamed only by the more powerful Chi of our 80+ yr old Teacher. She smiled, even chuckled at the growing pains of this novice as she deftly returned to the practice and everyone followed.
We made it through and all trying to appear strong, yet relaxed, as we listened to our Teacher’s dream of ending a ‘set’, turning around and seeing the entire class resting, relaxed and strong. The cadence and tone of the telling was therapeutic, if not downright other worldly. When the Chi was sufficiently settled and focused, ready to be used with mindful intention, she asked, “Are we ready for the next adventure?” The collective nod and “let’s begin”, as we all lifted our arms to chest level, chest width apart, palms facing forward , proceeded to rotate our hands back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. The rest of the body unmoving, for many, many, moments.
This was when I knew that I wanted to be just like My Teacher when I grow up.
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