A Life Before Dying

Posted on December 19, 2011


A lot of us spend a lot of time thinking about life in general, and/or about our lives in particular.  Some of us never think about these things at all because we are in our lives, up to our eyeballs in the nonsense or the wonder or the frustration of what bombards us day in and day out.  The nonsense, especially, is so deep, in fact, that stepping back just results in tripping over even more nonsense that we never knew was there.

But sometimes, when we least expect it, something happens that not only stops us in our tracks but lets us see the nonsense for what it is.  And only then, in that moment, with no nonsense, no pre-conceived notions of how or what life should be, a space opens up that is so huge with possibility that nothing we have ever experienced before seems real.

Something like that happened to two people I have known, and each time it happened, they were very close to the ends of their lives. Each time, it was in that small space between life and death, that transformation occurred.

One was a woman who was a member of a several-months-long workshop I attended some years ago.  She was in her 40s, unmarried, had little money, and was at an impasse in her professional life. While the workshop was in progress, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. During one of our meetings, we were each asked to declare a vision for our lives. I watched her face, as we went around the room, each person taking a turn speaking. Something was changing before my eyes, something huge and life-altering. When it was her turn, she stood up, carefully and slowly. Her physical discomfort was palpable, but her words were strong and clear.  She said she wanted to be an actress, and in that moment, she became her vision. She spoke of taking classes and trying out for plays.  She spoke of standing on the stage and expressing the essence of the role.  And she said that she had never felt so alive in her life. She didn’t even have to say that.  Her being said it all. When she died a couple weeks later, she did so as the actress of her vision.

And my friend Bill.  Who carried a debilitating hurt with him throughout the years and the decades. Who couldn’t get past the pain of his childhood.  While Bill was in hospice, he became friends with one of the hospice workers, a young man who had beaten all the odds, surviving terminal cancer. At first, his story served as a fragile lifeline for Bill.  Until it became much more.

They spoke for hours, this man and Bill.  And what began as a hope for the extension of his life, based on another man’s survival, turned into an understanding for Bill, in the final moments of his own life, about creating a space of endless possibility, based solely on love and an awareness that we create whatever reality we have. And the reality is only as big and as expansive and as nurturing as we declare it to be.

One day, Bill’s wife and my husband were in the hospice café.  I was alone in the room with Bill. Bill knew I had participated in several transformational workshops over the years, and I knew that he put them into the same category as pulling rabbits out of a hat and Gypsy fortune tellers.  But on this day, Bill said, “I have to talk to you.  There’s so much I want to tell you. There’s so much I understand now. And there’s so much I have to tell other people. I have to live, so that I can tell people.”  I said, “You get, now, don’t you, what all this is about?” and he said, “Yes. I get it.” He didn’t have to say anything more, and I didn’t have to ask any other questions.

In the few days he had left, Bill spoke to his mother.  Releasing all the nonsense, all the hurt, all the barriers. With words formed by his heart and not by his pain.  And he left this world in exactly the same way that woman did who was in my workshop: at peace, living his vision, and knowing that from vision, all things are possible.

Posted in: illness, life, love, sickness