I experienced William Blake’s poem as my life flashed before my eyes when I received a ‘death sentence’ on October 1st.
"To see the world in a grain of sandThe nuclear scan of my painful rib shows an area of possible bone metastases from previous breast cancer. Like Emily Dickinson:
and to see heaven in a wild flower,
hold infinity in the palm of your hands,
and eternity in an hour."
"I felt a cleavage in my mind
As if my brain had split;
I tried to match it, seam by seam,
But could not make them fit.
The thought behind I strove to join
Unto the thought before,
But sequence raveled out of reach
Like balls upon a floor."
A door is closing in my face. My years are shortly numbered. The thought of dying from cancer is ominous; how will I handle the pain? I remember others who have gone through that agony: my aunt Marie, some Franciscan sisters – Cyrene, Ann, Rita and Johnelle. They made the journey gracefully, so, so can I, I say to myself. One step at a time. I know I’m in good hands, etc. etc. Although I mean these words, they don’t keep the lid on my anxiety.
My largest grief is for Clare’s Well, and for my family and friends! I can hardly bear to see the pain and concern in Carol and Paula’s faces. We haven’t fully healed from Aggie’s death less than a year ago. How can they bear this? And who will share their work load? I am more concerned about this than I am about my own future, because I can count on community to care for me. My personal care is more obvious than is staffing at Clare’s Well.
Each morning, Carol, Paula and I share prayer and whatever else is on our minds. I have an x-ray report, not a final diagnosis, they remind me. An upcoming biopsy could be benign. These compassionate women help me to think positively. They pray for me.
Ten days later, on October 10th, Carol accompanied me to receive my biopsy report: no evidence of malignancy, only rib damage from some forgotten fall! I am shedding tears of gratitude both for the good news and for Carol’s companionship: someone to experience this huge relief with me.
That night I awoke too excited to sleep. I have my life back with a healthy body, a future, Clare’s Well community, and a greatly enhanced enthusiasm for all of the above. An inner door has broken open with blinders of over-familiarity and taking-life-for-granted stripped away. I see what I value, and I don’t have to leave just yet.
This was not a totally terrible experience, not that I’d ask to go through it again. Pain and facing death do teach lessons not available in any other school.
If I am allowed to know I am dying when my days end, I now believe I will be able to go forward with greater grace, trusting death as a normal part of life. These ten days were a rehearsal. I passed the preliminary exam without crashing. I feel encouraged that I will be able to pass the final test.