Yesterday evening I went to visit a patient of mine on hospice care. Her cancer had taken control and she was in the process of passing. She had become “holocaust” thin. I had not seen her in 6 or so months and I could hardly tell it was her until she smiled a few minutes into our meeting. Then I saw a glimpse of her former physical self. She was surrounded by flowers, spiritual books, and poetry.
For most of my patients that I see on a regular or semi regular basis I get to know them well as I am using a system of medicine that seeks to balance the body, mind and spirit. Thus many aspects of their intimate personal struggles, lifestyle, beliefs and diet for example may come out over time.
I had treated Tricia since before she was diagnosed with cancer. She had been a Psychotherapist in training, while supporting herself as a bookkeeper and taking care of her dying mother. I remember, it was hard for her to maintain her work schedule with the disease but she needed to and was given the support of an anonymous scholarship to continue her studies. We had worked on breathing practices and relaxing to relieve asthma along with acupuncture. All that was behind her now.
Before I even sat down in the room she says to her friend, who had been reading her poetry before I arrived, “another sign of completion”.
I remember the books I have read about dying. On Death and Dying by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, Who Dies by Stephen Levine, Tuesdays with Morey.
She asks me if I had any questions. I stumble with my words and say I am not prepared for such a big question. Than I blurt out something about my curiosity about the process of her making peace and the legacy she would like to leave. She forgives me for not staying in closer communication. I walk away deeply moved.
We are created in the act of love, and hopefully die with peace after a life of giving and receiving love. The complexity of what John Kabbat Zinn calls the full catastrophe can teach us peace if we let it.
Her dying reminds me that our prognosis is terminal - we all die - the question is how do you want to live before your time is up?
Thank you for reminding me of this. I love you Tricia