Monday, March 30, 2009

A Fine Farewell



What happens after you die? None of us still living know for sure, a fact that doesn't stop almost everyone from forming an opinion.

My client was one of those rare people who had never really given the topic much thought. She was an uber-achiever who had never stopped long enough in her busy career and busy life to think about the beyond, until her first cancer diagnosis.

She was angry when she heard the news, furious even. She met the challenge in the same way she met all of life's challenges, by devising a strategy, making a to-do list, and then jousting with the challenge head on. She did western medicine and eastern medicine, she came to me for bodywork, did bio-feedback, saw a counselor. As a result of the therapy, she decided to launch into a relationship with God for the first time. Though she had never connected with the life of the spirit, her prayer practice was quite passionate and ongoing. She let God know in no uncertain terms that she would not go gentle into the good night. She negotiated her treatment with God in the same way that she negotiated deals in her working life. It was an amazing process to witness. She had balls. She did.

After she finished treatment, she went back to her full-bore life, which meant I didn't see nearly as much of her for awhile. When she received her second diagnosis, she returned to her schedule of bodywork and other modalities immediately. I was surprised to notice a certain softness about her when she returned. It was the last thing I ever expected! She joined a meditation group, started doing yoga. She slowed down a little bit, began spending more time with her family, more time outdoors. Even her relationship with God softened. Hers was an amazing metamorphosis from hard-assed and bitchy to compassionate, open hearted.

For the last couple of years, her life has been all about the cancer, forget the career, forget the uber-achievements. The cancer spread here, then there, and finally spread everywhere. The last time I talked to her (on the phone, she was in the hospital) she said, "You know how, after someone dies, they say that person has gone to a 'better' place?" She said, "I've been given a glimpse, Reya, and you will not believe how beautiful it is. You would not believe it." There was music in her voice when she said that, a music I had never heard in all the years we've worked together.

Cancer, for her, was a situation that polished her spirit and opened her heart, and helped her evolve into one of the kindest people I've ever known. She died in a state of calm, in a state of grace. I would never have imagined such a scene when I first met her. Wow.

May she rest in peace in that beautiful place she got a glimpse of. May we all find beauty at the end of life! So may it be!

48 comments:

Rose said...

What a story. Maybe life does give us what we truly need, no matter how hard...

Lisa said...

i truly believe i have glimpsed it and it is beautiful xx

Pandora said...

Ah. So she was a healer.

Cause everybody who gives us a glimpse into that process is an enlightener, a healer.

love to you and yours, sweetie.

Reya Mellicker said...

Pandora, thank you. Read your comment and burst into tears. Thank you. You're still the baddest ass teacher I've ever had. Thank you.

Lizzy Frizzfrock said...

Such a wonderful story of your friend's journey. I would love to pass through this life full of grace without having a disease push me into it. Perhaps I can take a lesson from your friend. Thanks.

Angela said...

Have you heard of Pastor Dietrich Bonnhoefer, Reya? He wrote to his family (while he was waiting for his execution)"Mitten im Leben sind wir vom Tode umfangen..." (in the middle of life we are embraced by death), and that is so true. He was happy and not sad and sure that his spiritual life would not be over, and I think so too. I am glad for your friend, and for you to have told us of her.

willow said...

What a lovely and though provoking post, Reya. I hope I can pass into the next world with such grace and beauty.

Sorry to hear of her passing, but also much inspired.

Hilary said...

I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. You sure did give her a lovely tribute. A fine farewell, indeed.

Val said...

a sad but happy tale - you too are an enlightener.
such a shame it takes a crisis to get us to this point - thank you for this inspiring post xx

John Hayes said...

A moving story-- we all look for that sort of consolation.... thanks.

Pauline said...

When my mother gave birth to my sisters (twins) she lost too much blood. She was declared clinically dead but shortly after, she was revived. She told me she had been hovering in a corner of the room, listening to the doctors and yearning over her newborns. She could see herself and them quite clearly. At one point she moved away from the room and found herself at a gate. Beyond the gate was wide meadow that she recognized as the one beside our house. She was given to understand that she could move through the gate but she would have to go alone. She turned back to look at the twins and said (aloud and to the doctor's great astonishment), "Are you kidding? I have four children to take care of!"

She said she saw no person and heard no voice so she did not know to whom she directed that remark. She felt a great draw to the peace and the beauty and familiarity of the place beyond the gate but greater was her sense of duty and her love for her family.

In the last volume of the Narnia Chronicles, the children realize that the world they know is disappearing yet the world they are entering is the same - "more like Narnia than Narnia."

Perhaps that's what we mean when we say the dead are going home. It's a comforting thought.

JC said...

What a way to start my morning, coffee & tears. First, I am so sorry that your friend lost her battle with illness. Your story about her is such a lovely statement to her life.

I survived a coma three years ago. I have a peace about me now, that I did not have before. I don't remember anything but I just have a feeling ... not that I'm in a hurry ... but, for a long time I had a feeling of ... why did I wake up ... almost like I was somewhere else & was brought back.

I do hope your friend is at Peace ... may we all be there when our time comes.

Tovah S said...

A really beautiful tribute, Reya. Thank you. Much love to you, her family and everyone else that she was able to touch while here on earth.

lacochran said...

Even with such an affirming outcome, I'm sorry for your loss.

Robbin'sMama said...

That was an uplifting story and a wonderful tribute to your friend.

Butternut Squash said...

Hi Reya, I have known a few people who have no belief in anything beyond this world. So they say. It makes me very sad for them. Sharing your friend's life and death with us reaffirms the hope that carries us and liberates us to do great things with our own lives. Thank you.

janis said...

What a lovely post. A grand tribute to your friend. A piece of joy to look forward to.

Auntie, aka cagny said...

Hello,
Cancer terrifies me.
I pray that it will not strike me or anyone close to me (kinda like spitting into the wind?).
If it does ever strike me, I pray to be as strong as your friend.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

thanks for such a loving tribute and sharing your friend/client's story.

caught up on all the puppy's posts I've missed during my unintentional hiatus from the cyberhood....ah so many wonderful photos...

love how a couple of the clouds in this post look like faces kissing - a farewell kiss, perhaps....

Merle Sneed said...

We are all in it together and all alone at the moment of our death. I'm glad you friend went all out while she could and accepted what she couldn't change in the end.

deborah said...

This post made me cry--so beautiful like the clear of the photos
like the clear of your insight

love you so

Michelle Stiles said...

Wow. Goosebumps and tears. Lovely... To become soft, soft around the edges. Grace, to become graceful in our relationships and our lives.
To find these places is to be truely blessed.

debra said...

Blessings come in mysterious packages sometimes, I think. My ear friend and neighbor died of cancer last year. She did not lose a battle, as some said; I think that she grew in more ways than I know. She softened and her spirit soared. I loved her so... her husband said that I was the sister she never had. I think so too.

Elizabeth said...

What a beautiful, sad, story.
I'm sad for the loss of your friend but glad she did not die angry.
A close work friend just died from Multiple Myeloma much too young -- after a long and painful battle.
The was/is a very gentle loving spirit.
I hope I have courage and grace when the time comes.
Much love.

Larry said...

A very well-written and impassioned tribute to your friend and client, Reya! Once you reach the euphemistically-named "middle years" some of your friends will be dying; this grim sequence of events makes you wonder -- why was I spared? Is it just random chance? The Grim Reaper strides amongst us. Avert your eyes lest you be noticed!

tut-tut said...

I had a friend who, although she fought (if that is the term) a good fight, truly understood quite early that the end of the path was in sight. She had such a powerful sense of the world, herself, and beyond. I miss her every day.

You've given your friend a lovely tribute.

duty free said...

Beautifully expressed, Reya.

Coffee Messiah said...

Touching and we all know people who struggle when any kind of sickness sets them back.

Although I feel strong and know the reality, I may chicken out if it happens to me.

Great photos to go with this too ; )

SJW said...

I'm inclined to agree with your opening lines - none of us knows for sure, but what a beautiful story.
And only just saw your pics from last post.
Fabulous.

SJW said...

I'm inclined to agree with your opening lines - none of us knows for sure, but what a beautiful story.
And only just saw your pics from last post.
Fabulous.

Reya Mellicker said...

None of us knows for sure, but we all have an opinion, don't we? I do. I think we go wherever we think we're going to go which is one reason I refuse to believe in Hell.

Pauline, what a story! I've heard so many along this same line. It resonates, doesn't it? The meadow or beautiful outdoor location, and especially the gate and the light.

I, too, was in a coma for four days after an accident that involved me, inside a a dinky little Toyota Corolla vs. a Southern Pacific freight train. When I woke up, everyone was surprised. I believe some deep contract was signed during that time. I don't remember a thing about it, but I, too have a feeling, JC.

Delwyn said...

Hi Reya
You have written of your friend with tenderness and insight. And you have been fortunate to witness such a transformation.

I hope stories like this make us more inclined to find the beauty of each day, not just experience the beauty that is possible at the end of life.

Happy days

Celestite said...

That was a lovely tribute.

I too have known people who faced death with more grace and calmness than they had ever accepted anything in life. Leaves those of us who aren't there yet scratching our heads.

Amy said...

Lovely, Reya. Just lovely.

I'm a believer in just this one life. Sometimes we have to give up the illusion of having control over it in order for us to see it for what it is and for what it should be.

Thanks for a great post.

Natalie said...

I have also witnessed such a change in someone Reya. When I read your beautiful post, I just said YES!
All is right with the world.
Thank You.

Washington Cube said...

Thank God she found peace during the process. Having witnessed the flip side, I'll pray for the peace and grace in the letting go. You, in turn, were blessed by a pupil that let you be part of her journey.

Kerry said...

Thank you for sharing this story. I try not to think about death, as it seems such a dark and lonely place...but maybe not...maybe it is as your friend, and others here,have described. I hope so.

Evening Light Writer said...

Dear Reya, I keep thinking of Emily Dickinson's poem:

XIII
THE SOUL selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.

Unmoved, she notes the chariot’s pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.

I ’ve known her from an ample nation
Choose one;
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.

In other words, we find our paths and move along them..that is the way of the soul I think..nothing else matters but that.

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Lover of Life said...

It is the same story we hear over and over in near death experiences. Heartening, isn't it?

Thanks for this post, it was very well done!

Ronda Laveen said...

As for Hell, also a non-believer.

For your friend...and so it is.

lettuce said...

dying can be quite a life process, indeed

which is strange, and i'm not sure if i think its wonderful or tragic

maybe both

karen said...

Thanks for a beautiful story, and I've enjoyed reading all the follow up comments...

A Cuban In London said...

What a poignant post. And I can perfectly understand your client's fury.

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

The Family Julz said...

Your blog is like coming home too. Tears of joy, sadness, and contentment. All in one.

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Susan said...

Beautiful words, Reya:

"Cancer, for her, was a situation that polished her spirit and opened her heart, and helped her evolve into one of the kindest people I've ever known. She died in a state of calm, in a state of grace. I would never have imagined such a scene when I first met her. Wow."

My friend, Gwen, had ovarian cancer from age 27 until she died at 37. With long periods of remission, she lived life fully in spirit and in the body. She divorced, lived single, married a man who knew what he risked--but saw the greater gain of life with her. She loved God--she loved life. Not to say she didn't get angry or scared.

We are all richer for knowing people like your friend.