I remember my first encounter with a family death. My dad opened the door and I walked behind him into a stark, well-lit hospital room. I looked up to my right and there was my grandmother with tubes down her throat and in her arms and her head wrapped in gauze. Her eyes were swollen and closed, but I still said, “Hi Sasa.” She wasn’t awake, but her body responded with her head shifting toward me. I was so scared, but I wanted her to know that I loved her and didn’t want her to be in pain anymore. A few hours after we left her room, she passed. She was 58. I was 15.
Cancer. It’s a bad word that conjures up feelings of anger, sadness, and sorrow. Over the last few weeks, I have learned of two stage four diagnoses of people in our community. One is a beloved middle school English teacher and mother who has left her impression on hundreds of students, including my daughter. The other is a gentle and generous father who has given tirelessly to his family and the community. Both are now chasing the clock to make the most of every last minute with family and friends. My girls look at me through tears and ask, “Why?” and “How can this be happening again?” when our community has already endured so much loss. I do my best to hold the space for them to share their anger, sadness and disbelief. I also know that this pain is part of living. We can’t prevent or control the cancers and other diseases and scenarios that claim our loved ones earlier than expected. Sitting in the face of evil and mustering the courage to demonstrate love and compassion is, I believe, some of the most challenging work of our lives.
We may not get a say in the truth that lies before us, but we have the minutes, hours, weeks and maybe months between the clarity in what’s to come and the moment it becomes a reality. We have each moment in between to share and demonstrate what we most value. That is our power in these seemingly powerless moments.
My grandmother was a strong independent, creative and adventurous woman. She left us in that hospital room long ago, but I still share with my girls my experiences of her infectious laughter, her willingness to jump into splits with me on the floor, and her awareness and appreciation for nature and wildflowers. The essence of who she was stays with me. In those final few minutes I had, I loved her and showed my fear and promised to remember who she was before that uninvited end.
I leave you with a prayer to think about as you find your courage, love and compassion:
Prayer of Saint Francis or Peace Prayer
Lord, make me an instrument Of thy peace, where there is hatred, Let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; And where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek To be consoled as to console; To be understood as to understand; To be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive, It is in pardoning that we Are pardoned, and it is in dying That we are born to eternal life.