One day recently I laid down on my bed and took a nap in the middle of the afternoon. I woke up facing the window, enjoying the exact view in the photo above. One of the things I love about the older houses here in Iowa is the lower windows. They sit right at bed height, so you can enjoy the view while lying down. But on this particular occasion, I looked out the window, and I felt fear fall on me.
I just may not be able to nap again.
The first thing that entered my mind was that I was fearing death. And/or I was fearing the process of dying. I imagined that toward the end of my life, I would be in that exact place, looking at that exact view. I have said before that I am not afraid of dying, and by that I mean the things that happen after you die. I do have a number of fears about the process of dying, from what would have to happen physically to cause death, to the emotional impact of facing the time to actually say goodbye.
I have also become very concerned about my life, what I have done with it, what I have yet to do with it. Napping has started to give me anxiety because I feel as though I am wasting time. I am also quite concerned that I have not yet unraveled the mysteries of the universe, or at least my universe. I spend much of my time these days trying to track it down. I read and read and read. It’s odd, but so many of the books I have picked up in the last couple of months have had to do with the multiverse theory — even books that on the surface were not about that at all! I am currently reading The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult. I am about halfway through so can’t give a final review (except that there are too many details of Egyptology in the first few chapters, but don’t let that deter you; you don’t actually have to understand it to read the book). Dawn, the main character, has made death her life, from her studies in Egyptology, in excavating tombs and working on translation and understanding of The Book of Two Ways, which was an Egyptian map for the soul to follow after death, to her work as a death doula, assisting people through the process of dying. Her husband is a physicist, and studies multiverse theories. In my reading so far, I think we are following Dawn in two parallel lives in that multiverse.
This is fascinating, not so much in waiting to see how it all unravels, because I have inevitably been completely disappointed in the way the multiverse has been revealed in the books I have read. But seeing her different lives, different life choices, listening in on her conversations with her dying clients about the meaning of their lives, the legacies they want to leave, has amplified my own concerns about my life, whether I have done what I should, what my legacy will be.
In addition to reading, I have been studying. I have enrolled in online courses in writing, in art, in Rumi, in the Bible. I have subscribed to pages in social media that take me down many roads. I don’t honestly think it is possible to shake the truth out in this lifetime. Now we see through a glass darkly, as Paul says in Corinthians. I am still delving deeply into Bible study, because I always have, and I probably always will. I do believe that, as it says of itself, it is inspired by God and profitable for teaching. But its exclusivity has always bothered me, and continues to make me bristle. God by necessity must be bigger than one single nation on the face of the earth. God must be bigger than one single narrow path, and it is my prayer that God will accompany me on my journey and make himself known in my heart of hearts. I have not and will not shut out the teachings of the narrow way, but I ask God to hold my hand and my heart as I consider them in the context of the whole, in the context of love and justice and the universe. So I study the Bible with Beth Moore, I study writing with Margaret Atwood, I delve daily into Rumi’s poetry. I try to unravel the knots inside me that keep my creativity bound into an obsessive compulsive attention to detail and a desire to be done with things rather than to dive in deep and linger.
Also, I have had a death in the family. I have wanted to write about it, but I try always to keep my family’s business private. So I will just say that my daughter-in-law passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 36. She and my son have been together for 22 years, and have three beautiful children. I don’t think I need to describe the devastation.
But I can tell you that I felt my daughter-in-law’s presence strongly. I felt it minimally here with me. For myself, I heard her say what she has said to me several times in life: “He needs mom hugs.” But I visualized her in her own home, with her own family. I visualized her slipping out of her body, looking around and asking, what have I done? (No, this is not at all a suspected suicide, but it was unexpected and so she would have been surprised.) She had long, long black hair, and I visualize it spreading out around her as she hovers over her family, over my son. I see her reaching out and touching his heart with a finger, leaving a glowing gold spot where her finger made contact.
And yes, I may be crazy, although I have to tell you that in real life I suffer from a huge lack of imagination. But be that as it may, the unexpected incursion of death into the lives of my family has knocked me down: the fact of it, the fact that life ends, and the impact of it, the grief and the devastation, the huge hole in the entire tapestry of the lives of those left. Because that is what I fear most. I think it is what we all fear most.
My daughter-in-law left a legacy. She left it in her family, and in a community she mentored, by whom she was greatly loved. She also left a lot of hearts filled with sorrow.
I keep journals, but they are really not for public consumption. I have kept them for years, although I was surprised when I moved that most of my older journals were no longer around. They were mostly stupid, and I may have destroyed them at some point in my life, but I don’t recall it. My journals are where I go to whine and complain when I am really hurt and there is nowhere else to go. I also fill them with notes on various studies, from sermons at church, and my SOAP notes from my personal Bible study. I figure that’s a good way to deter anybody from wanting to read them. Oh, and I write them in cursive! They don’t teach that in school anymore. I can’t tell you how often I have had a family member tell me that they couldn’t read my birthday card, a commentary not just on the lack of cursive teaching, but my handwriting!
But this new journal is specifically going to be for my family. I have been thinking lately about some of my favorite memories, and I want to write them down for my family. Maybe some family history? Things that I want them to know. I was concerned that it was one book, but I can see my oldest daughter taking it, copying it, and sending copies to everyone. That is just what she would do.
I had a nurse practitioner tell me when I was initially diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that she expected me to be here in ten years. But that was based on the tumor they knew being the only tumor, and it being responsive to treatment. I am not 100 percent confident in either of those things. My doctor knows my doubts, and she always says, “so what shall we do with you?” in order to give me a chance to give my input. But my fears are just fears. They are not easily proven. And the next stage of treatment is unpleasant, so I am reluctant to ask for it. I let it ride for now, continuing the first line treatment of Ibrance and Faslodex. For now, the primary tumor has shown no growth in the last three months. My doctor is hopeful that my treatment had held it in check, and that it will soon start receding. I will hope with her, hope that it has not been popping up in all those other bumps I find.
It is autumn here. The leaves are changing color and falling from the trees. Sometimes they look like snowstorms they are so thick! I had lived here only a short time when I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. The winter that had greeted us when we arrived was just turning to the most beautiful, glorious spring! I remember thinking that I wanted to be able to witness the change of many seasons in this place. And I will, and that makes me happy. The lightness and joy of the first months here have grown into the complex mixtures of emotions that reflect real life. I anticipate the winter, which was so beautiful, the now leafy trees bare against the snow, but cold and just a little scary. Then spring. Then summer. I imagine there will be a lot of changes in the year to come. Hopefully they will be to the good. Hopefully they won’t hurt. Hopefully I will get a grip. Hopefully the world will be a kinder place. Hope. I will hope until I find faith.
Thank you for being here. I love you.
Michaela, I love you forever. If you are where I think you are, give Karina a hug and tell her she is very loved and missed. And nana, too. Until we meet again … you are in my heart. You are all in our hearts.