May you find joy and hope in this season of Darkness and Light. An excerpt from It's Not About the Hair: And Other Certainties of Life & Cancer:
I was just completing my first year of being off chemo. But there were all kinds of beginnings and endings happening around me. Lisa had completed the last possible treatment for her cancer. We were now giving her palliative care: packed red blood cells, platelets, hydration. We referred to this as the, “red wine, white wine, water,” regimen. She had already had hospice come in and do an initial assessment with her. She cut off her long hair before it all fell out and had a wig made that looked perfectly natural—until now. She had lost so much weight that it perched on her head like a little blonde nest.
If it had been any other patient in this situation, I would never have mentioned that I was coming up on my chemo anniversary. But I had known Lisa for several years and knew she would celebrate with me.
I knocked and slid open the door to her room. I was surprised to see that she was fast asleep and even more surprised to see that she was not wearing her wig. A soft knitted cap covered her head. I was just backing out her room when she opened one of her eyes, lifted her hand and gave me a little smile.
“Come in,” she said softly. “I have a question for you.”
I gelled my hands. That was our policy at the clinic: “Gel in, gel out.” It was like rubbing clean smelling slime on your hands. Or blowing your nose without a Kleenex. Or shaking hands with a slug. You get the picture.
Lisa and I always joked about this because everyone who stands there rubbing his or her hands together looks like some mad scientist eager to inflict some horrendous pain. The unfortunate thing about this is that we both thought that at times, it was true.
So I rubbed my hands together and said in my best Transylvanian accent, “Yes, my darling. What is your question before I stick the electrodes on your eyeballs?”
“The hospice nurses come in every couple of days. But at the end, don’t you think they should be there all time, because what if I fall out of bed?”
I kept rubbing my hands together way after the gel had evaporated. I grabbed a rolling stool from the corner of the room and sat down. Then I lowered the seat and cleared my throat. I bought myself about fifteen seconds doing all of this.
“You won’t fall out of bed at the end,” I said.
“How do you know?”
“You won’t have enough energy. You barely have enough energy to go to the bathroom now, right?”
“Well, at the end, most people don’t have a lot of energy and they usually go into a coma. If you’re in a coma, you’re not jumping around and you won’t fall out of bed. ”
I rolled up close to the bed and took her hand. “If you’re really afraid of that, you can have someone stay in the room with you.” She didn’t say anything for a long time, just lay there gripping my hand. I saw that she was getting the “white wine” today.
Finally she said, “I told my daughter that Mommy is probably going to die from the cancer.”
“What did she say?”
“She said, ‘I don’t’ want you to die, Mommy. What if I have a problem and need to ask you a question?’ I told her, ‘When you have a question, all you have to do is get very, very quiet and very, very still and ask your question. Then being as still and as quiet as you can be listen very carefully and Mommy and God will give you an answer. And as you get older, when you very quiet and very still, you will hear your own voice.’”
Here it was December and I had seen parents feverishly shopping and buying their children all kinds of toys and games and books and clothes. How many parents had thought of giving their children the gift of learning how to listen to God and listen to their own voice? Because I was fighting back tears, my voice was sort of thick when I said, “What an incredible gift you’ve given her.”
“Thank you. “
Get very still and get very quiet. I felt as if I spent most of my time as a chaplain telling people to check in with their breath, to quiet themselves, to listen. What if we all had learned to do this as children? Maybe I’d be out of a job.
There are times when I feel as if I am in the presence of some kind of Higher Being. That afternoon with Lisa I felt like that. She was thoughtful and filled with peace. I know that some people who work with energy say that energy is just energy. Period. But I disagree. I’ve been with people whose energy felt scattered or chaotic or nervous. Maybe it’s a matter of semantics. But Lisa’s energy felt divine and I wanted to sit there and bask in it.
Then she said, “It’s wonderful to sit in the silence with you.”
It’s wonderful to sit in the silence with you. The words wrapped around me in that way I recognized as Spirit speaking. We sat for quite a long time holding hands in the silence and I didn’t tell her about my chemo anniversary.