Coming to Terms

He has realized he is dying and he is telling people this. I am so relieved for there’s a whole layer of resistance and denial that no longer needs to exist, a whole layer of energy that no longer needs to be expended in the name of hope.

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Feb 11, 2018

In the past three days our trip to the ocean has worked its magic on us once again. Michael calls this place a “pattern accelerator,” and it’s true, for he has realized he is dying and he is telling people this. So now we have moved into another round of grief and acceptance and yet again, more grief.  I am so relieved for there’s a whole layer of resistance and denial that no longer needs to exist, a whole layer of energy that no longer needs to be expended in the name of hope.

For many months, I’ve known this was coming. At some level I knew it at the beginning. Michael says that I’ve felt this because of my father’s death when I was 13. Early on he believed that my unwillingness to jump wholeheartedly onto the Hope Train was an effect of this childhood trauma. And though there’s some truth in this, truth that there is childhood pain that is so deep it’s almost impossible to heal, there’s always been the sense for me that this disease he’s gotten is the harbinger of the end of his life.

So for such a long time, I have danced around his denial and his hope. I wanted to support the hope but without supporting a kind of wishing that didn’t feel real to me. Each month we’ve gone into the next round of blood tests, each month watching and waiting for the numbers that would tell us whether things were getting better. And each month I’d feel us clinging just a bit, wanting the numbers to be something that they aren’t, then watching as that same energy got redirected into the next month’s numbers.

Now we’re not expecting the numbers to become normal. Now we’re expecting that Michael is moving toward some kind of death at some unknown time. But knowing this is coming, and really knowing this is coming, are two different things, two different layers of acceptance and meaning.

For several years my left eye has been dryer than the right and it tears more often and more easily. In the past year this has gotten noticeably worse. As a mind-body psychologist, I pay attention to these bodily metaphors, my own and others’. I know these metaphors are always telling us something about ourselves, and usually something important, something that we haven’t totally grasped or haven’t totally healed.

In metaphorical language, the left side of the body represents the Feminine, the right side the Masculine. It’s a pretty easy metaphor really. My feminine self is crying while my masculine self is seeing clearly and I realize that both are important and both are true — for there is real grief and there is clear seeing.

Today I went to a place on the beach that we call The Point. It’s a good long hike and Michael drops me off near an entry point and will pick me up later so that he can have the car. He is too tired for this walk and he is sad not to be able to take it with me. I pack a bunch of tissues assuming I will be crying on this beautiful and solitary stretch of sand. It’s the first time I’ve gone here alone.

Before it was always Michael and me – walking, holding hands, watching the waves and the thousands of different birds that make this part of the world their home – the pelicans, seagulls, plovers, terns, herons, and skimmers. It’s a special place for us and it’s bittersweet to be doing it alone. But it’s still transcendently beautiful and the sacredness of the place overtakes me. I meditate and do yoga and pray and sing songs of worship to the ocean. For a time, I am healed and surprisingly, I don’t cry.

As I walk the long path back to the road where I hope that Michael will meet me I realize that I’m going to be doing a lot of things alone — things that I used to do with him. My left eye tears up over this but my right eye remains clear. “Oh well,” I think, “It’s just the way it is. Accept it, accept it.” I know I am sad but I also know I am deeply blessed to be walking on this beach, to be praying in this sacred water, to be loving this holy place.

But I’ve walked a long way and now I’m tired. I’ve been out for almost 3 hours and my legs are hurting, the wind is picking up, and there’s rain blowing in. Finally, I make it to a long boardwalk leading to a place we’ve stayed before. It’s closer than the boardwalk to our current house which is another mile down the road and I’m ready to come in. I text him to tell him where I am, but since the phone service is terrible here, I can’t trust that our texts will reach each other. I’m not sure if he’ll be able to find me.

My feet are crusted with sand and they hurt from walking on seashells and the hard, cheap and splinter-laden wood of this boardwalk. I sit down to stretch my socks on over my filthy toes, engrossed in my struggle with gritty sand, tight socks and old shoes. Across the way, on a parallel walk, a man calls out, “Is that you?”

I look up and it is Michael! “You found me!” I say joyously. And as my heart leaps with joy, just as suddenly I am besieged by sorrow. I realize that someday Michael won’t be here to find me, and I wonder if anyone will ever look for me in this way again. Now deep wracking sobs move through me with a grief that is almost unbearable. But all of me is crying now, and that is a good thing. There’s no distance from this grief, no escape from this pain, for he will be gone and I will be here without him. And now at last, I can fully face into this.

The good thing, the truly remarkable thing, is that for the first time we can talk about it. We can grieve wholeheartedly. There’s no more hiding from the truth, no temporizing, no denial. We don’t know how much time we’ve got left, but we know it’s limited.

I didn’t know I’d have to face yet another level of acceptance. I should have known, but I didn’t. I’m realizing that each new layer of acceptance must also mean a new layer of grief. For when we accept something we don’t want to accept, aren’t we really just learning to live with some sort of loss? Even though I’ve known this death was coming for some time, now that I really know it, I find myself stumbling around it, shakily trying to find my feet, trying to hold steady. I am learning over and over again to accept the unacceptable.

I remember reading a sentence about grief in one of the many medical rooms we’ve sat in throughout this 19 months of illness. It had one of those rainbow and sunshine backgrounds with the words: “Grief is just love that hasn’t let go yet.” But then I wonder how we ever truly let go of a much-loved person.

All I know for sure is that I can’t let go yet. This man is still very much alive, and though his body is dying, his soul is growing, and I am here to witness that growth. Now I embrace this new reality. Both my eyes are open and both are crying, my whole heart is bursting, and I am alive with grief and clarity.

Soul Contract

Our contracts aren’t meant to keep us safe and secure. They are meant to constantly throw us out onto the ragged edge of growth and change.

 

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I’ve been thinking about soul contracts lately. I look at soul contracts as agreements our souls make in order to grow in this lifetime. In it the soul agrees to its karmic lessons, experiences, and circumstances for its best chance at advancement of consciousness.

I’m seeing that Michael and I have made quite a contract together. Of course I can only see this contract in retrospect, and god knows, there may be more to come.

But here’s what I know so far: Clearly Michael and I were to meet and help each other out of marriages that were not happy for either of us. Clearly, we were to marry and raise three children. Clearly, we were to create a truly unique healing center together. Clearly, I was to have a potentially fatal disease from which I was to recover. Clearly, he was to care for me during this time, and then for some time after. Clearly, we were to encounter experiences that would lead both of us more deeply into spirit and higher consciousness. Clearly, once Michael became enlightened he was to be diagnosed with a mortal illness. And now clearly, I am to take care of him until he dies.

What a contract! There’s so much suffering within it, and so much potential for growth and love.

Part of what I’ve been doing is watching how this contract is unfolding and what my grief is teaching me over these long fifteen months.

First, grief comes in waves of watery energy. Anyone who has ever experienced a big loss knows this. Sometimes it comes gently, a soft rain of sadness, a pulling down but not under. Sometimes, unexpected, unplanned, and completely uncontrollable waves of grief spiral through me and suddenly I find myself lost in a storm of sorrowful realizations. Other times grief is so potent that only wracking sobs and an inchoate sense of falling are possible. These are the times in which I wonder if I will be pulled under to drown in a pain that is inconsolable and too huge to hold. But I do not drown and I am learning to hold.

Second, rather than stages of grief, it feels like layers of grief that reveal a new look into the depths of sorrow, despair, and fear. Sometimes I still find myself at the initial layer of shocked incomprehension. Other times I’ve plunged so deeply into sorrow that I’ve found a kind of peace. And then I can come all the way back up to the layer of denial and confusion.

I’ve been hoping to find the intersection of sorrow and peace in all of this for I know this search is part of my soul’s contract, part of my necessary growth. I’ve found that it does exist but I need to cry to find it. Once I’ve opened my heart to myself, then tears are followed by peace and by a deeper knowing of the nature of suffering and true compassion. But I must open my heart to myself for this to happen.

Lately I’ve realized that in spite of thinking that I was handling grief about as well as anyone can, what I was actually doing early on was protecting myself with fantasy and a kind of mean-eyed clarity. Fantasies of what my future would be like began to take up a fair amount of my mind-time. How old will I be when Michael dies? How will I want to be living my life? Where will I want to live? Will I get married again? What kind of man will I be looking for?

At the same time, thoughts about our marriage and the holes in our relationship became more prominent. And like all marriages, ours is not perfect. There are co-dependencies that have developed that don’t feel healthy and that have made me question this relationship on and off for a number of years. I spent months inwardly chasing fantasies while looking for some kind of security in an inherently insecure situation.

The hell of it is that we all have these codependent relationships, at least until we really grow up. Not all of them are unhealthy, of course, and any long term relationship will have worked out various methods of getting needs met – rituals and patterns that can be life-sustaining or life-denying. At some point, and maybe too often, we end up needing something from someone we love to the point of compromising ourselves in order to get it.

This is what it feels like to me. Soon, the compromises begin to erode one’s self-reliance and one’s self-respect, and eventually, one’s essence. And even when the erosion is very subtle, it’s still part of the scene.

For instance, very unconsciously I remained chronically fatigued for years so that Michael would take care of me. In turn he got to feel secure because I needed him so much. Please hear that I am not blaming him for this in the least! This pattern plays way back into my childhood, and even though I know and understand this pattern, I couldn’t stop feeling physically worn out.

So interestingly, when Michael became truly ill, I began to be truly well. I’ve been struck by this on many occasions, and I know other people have too. I still have many of the symptoms I had before, I’m still sensitive in ways I sometimes wish I wasn’t, I’m still tired sometimes, but I don’t feel sick any more! And weirdly enough, our pattern was so well entrenched that even with knowing every in and out of it, every devious little twist and turn of it, we were powerless to stop it until Michael got sick. It took something this dire to shake us out of a pattern that wasn’t nourishing either of us!

Michael also knows about this pattern, of course, because it’s been a running commentary between us over the years – me bringing it up and him inwardly groaning while outwardly taking it on. And now we both see the changes that have been wrought in these past fifteen months. Mostly, we aren’t stuck in the old ways anymore – he knows I love him for things deeper than his care of me. And I know that I can take care of myself.

Of course, there’s been a high cost for this. From time to time, I’m overwhelmed with grief and responsibility, and Michael is coping with debilitating illness and chemotherapy side effects. We’re both looking at tremendous losses but of very different sorts. What a price to pay for freedom. What a contract!

But ultimately, the greatest freedom I’ve found is that grief isn’t anything to fear. It’s harsh and sad and sometimes overwhelmingly empty. But the thing that has to be accepted with grief is that there is no protection! There is no safety in this physical life except the full acceptance of what it really is. That’s it. Everyone you love will either leave you or you will leave them. There’s no way around it.

Our contracts aren’t meant to keep us safe and secure. They are meant to constantly throw us out onto the ragged edge of growth and change. There is nothing to hold on to here but love.

And though I still feel fear, I know it is an illusion. I can’t hide in fantasies about the future or resentments about the past. To really love, I have to risk everything and at last come to peace with this complete lack of safety. This means opening my heart with absolute certainty that it’s going to be broken. Now I truly know that I am staring death in the face, and that I am going to lose.

If I really accept this, really surrender to this ongoing practice, then I do find peace or rather, peace finds me – and that is the other wisdom that has come. I can chase peace with a desperate determination but I won’t find it by chasing it. It simply arises in a moment of grace and then there it is.

For that is what is happening now. Michael and I have found a new peace together. It’s not romantic or sexual at all – that has been stripped away. Instead, we’re often just sitting together, talking, and holding hands. It’s the way our soul contract currently expresses itself and we both know that we came here to live it out. It is full of goodness and it is asking us to be our best selves. We try to live up to it.

So what is left between us? It is phenomenal respect, friendship, and compassion for our beingness, for what we’ve been and what we are, and for what we may become. What is left is the essence of love. Finally, we have reached a simple purity of goodness – the goodness of being able to sit in deep comfort, to hold hands in the quiet darkness, to speak softly of spirit in its many guises, and then, to go gently into that good night.