A couple of nights ago I woke in the middle of the night from a terrifying dream, with my heart pounding, my mouth still mouthing the emotional words I had been saying in my dream, stress hormones coursing through my body.
In the dream I had just been diagnosed with cancer, and I was surrounded by doctors as they explained to me where it was in my body, and what they planned to do to try and remove it.
In the dream I felt overcome with dread, panic, confusion and horror. Right before I willed myself to awaken, I was explaining to the doctors: "You don't understand -- I can't die yet. I have two young children still to raise. I have children who need me to be their mama. I have work still to do in this world. It's not my time; it's NOT my time!"
After I woke up, I just lay there in my bed for a long time as I found my breath again, soothed my pounding heart, and ran my fingers with gratitude over the length of my healthy body -- thankful, so thankful for its strength and sweet resilience and blessed health. But also, I was startlingly aware of the old, familiar fight within me, painfully illuminated by this dream, a core, embedded distrust about this aspect of God, of Life; this which includes untimely, unpredictable disease, and eventually, death.
I have had my fair share of encounters with serious illness in this lifetime, though all before I became a mother. I had made true spiritual peace with the natural, sacred inclusion and inevitability of death before I became a mother. Let's just say that in my experience, motherhood brings a whole other sense of primal vulnerability and ferocious attachment to staying in the body, remaining on the planet, and responsibly attending to these young beings we brought here.
I believe I know why I had this hard, scary dream. Two days earlier, I had run into an old friend with whom I had lost touch. We had been friends in our 20s, prior to motherhood, and shared the path of healing service. When I ran into her a few days ago, for the first time in over a decade, in the middle of a store, she had two, beautiful children with her, who looked just a tad younger than my own little ones. One child walked a bit ahead of her, and the other walked close by her side, holding her hand. I didn't recognize her at first. She stopped me, her eyes widening, and said: "Jesua! It's me..."
I was stunned and happy to see her, after all these years! Happy to see her beautiful family! And then my eyes went to her head, previously covered in long, thick brown locks, now it was just barely growing out of her scalp, maybe one fourth of an inch long. Around her eyes I noticed a darkened strain, and in her eyes I saw something I have seen before. It was the look of a woman who has faced death and fought for life, one who has embraced immeasurable fear and walked through the fire of world-shattering initiation.
She saw me taking all of this in, and without my needing to even ask anything out loud, she responded with poignancy: "Yeah... I've been dealing with a little bout of cancer. Since last April. Stage three. I just finished chemo."
I looked slowly from her beautiful, aching eyes, to these two radiant young children, ages about nine and four I would say. I could feel it, the weight of it all, still burdening their family field. I could feel what they'd all been through; the terror that they might lose their beloved mama, the anger and sadness, the exhaustion. It hit me fully, the imaginable horror of this, like a nauseating punch in the gut.
Dear people, sweet humans. What arduous tests and lessons we endure in this world, in these brief lifetimes. What pain and strain and fear and challenge. What loss of innocence. What yearning for safety and sanctity and reliability in a realm that inherently promises and delivers loss upon loss.
We caught up on the last twelve years of our lives a bit more, standing there in the middle of the store. And before we parted ways, she said: "Hey -- I'm ALIVE. At least I can say that." And I said something like: "Oh yes, Dear One. You certainly ARE. Thank you, thank you for your LIFE."
As I moved on with my shopping, and my evening, I noticed my heart and mind kept returning to my old friend and her children, wondering what she must have faced upon receiving that news last spring -- as a vibrant, beautiful young woman, a healer, and a mother of two little ones. What she must have faced, and be facing still, working so deeply to heal her body, wrestling with the pull of disease and threat of death, while needing to continue to attend the immense responsibilities of life, the necessity of staying alive to mother her young. I can only imagine.
All the next day I felt it nagging at me, this pain, this hardship of hers... and, finally I realized that I was triggered, personally. Here she was -- a woman my own age, who had given her life to helping others to heal, with two young children about my own kids ages, suddenly struck with a "little bout of cancer." It felt too close to home. My psyche felt fear and anxiety in response to the fierce reminder, the dharma bell of her reappearance on my path.
I've played the role of death doula in my work as a healer, and have gratefully assisted many people as they've transitioned home, through the gateway of death, to the other side. I've held people closer than close as they crack open in all-consuming grief following the passings of their beloved ones. I've faced scary, life-threatening illnesses of my own, and of my children. I've opened into the core of my resistance to death, and my distrust of life's fierce inclusions, and surrendered, again and again, my tenderly vulnerable heart, in gracious, tenacious faith to What holds it all.
But still, this encounter triggered me.
And so I dreamed it all the way through that next night -- intimately, intensely. I dreamed it was me -- my body, my terror, my children. Just as on some level, in our supreme interconnectedness, it IS me. It is you. It's any one of us. It's all of us.
I dreamed it, so as to meet it more fully. So as to meet my own resistance, my own flailing fists of "NO!" against this part of God called disease, called death, so as to invite deeper breaths of love, forgiveness, and trust into that place. What else can we do?
We can shut it out, with dismissive denial, because it's too painful, and too scary to really let in. OR we can open, letting love have its way with our deepest fears, and darkest corridors of distrust within us.
I want to send out a prayer of healing love, faith and grace to all those who are meeting intense illness at this time.
I want to send out a loving embrace to all those who are facing these holidays for the first time, or the second, or the third, without someone by their sides whom they have dearly cherished...
I want to send out a bright torch of strength and healing blessing to all the dear mothers in our world who have had to fight to hold on to their lives while still mothering their precious young, or who have had to surrender their bodies, finally, in spite of still having little children to raise...
All the dear fathers, as well, who have fought to stay alive, or have had to leave their irreplaceable role vacant, in responding to the undeniable call of death.
May our hearts find peace, find true rest and wholeness, here, or on the other side.
May we know all is well.
May we rejoice, in great gratitude (those of us who honestly can), for this relative health, peace, safety, warmth, shelter, companionship, bounty of nourishment.
May we somehow know that we can trust this Life, including the perils of disease and promise of death.
May we know we are held, regardless. May we know we are held.
May love and truth prevail.
To find out more about Jesua, her offerings and other writings, please visit jesua.com
photo credit: Lone Morch