I am not really sure when it happened but it occurred to me finally late last night–or early this morning. Despite my acceptance of my reality, I still felt a certain surrealness to this experience of dying. As I lay in bed last night, I realized that this had shifted. Somehow the fact that death is breathing down my neck is now real in a way that it has not been.
I know this is not true for many others around me. On Saturday night I went to a social function–something I had not done in a long while. A friend waved across the tables at me and caught up with me later in the evening, admitting that when he saw me laughing and enjoying myself with friends, he thought I looked ravishing. I knew the intent of the message–you do not look as if you are dying. Wrapping one’s head around my illness gets harder to do, even as I get sicker, because I do look vibrant and continue to welcome opportunities to visit with dear ones. This disease is kind of a master manipulator in that regard. On the Cholangiocarcinoma Forum that I read from time to time, patients die and shock all of us. Photographs of the deceased are posted by others still living with the disease who knew them. They too look radiant and vibrant three months prior to dying. The sudden decline is a hard part of this disease for loved ones who are trying to comprehend what happened.
Perhaps it was my three-week stay in the hospital, discussing palliative care options with doctors. Maybe it was the number of nurses who responded during the shift change to the fact that the goal for me was discharge. I began to wonder what my chart said that made this goal so unattainable in their eyes. Of course, planning my prayer vigil and funeral was another reality check. The fragility of my health overall is a reminder of my mortality. The other day I caught sight of myself naked in the bathroom mirror after showering. I stopped at what I saw. Despite my distended belly, I could see my ribs. After almost three months of not lifting anything, I have developed chicken wings. My “beautifully sculpted” arms (ok, that is a bit of an exaggeration) are gone. I took note of a few other items and felt sadness rising within me. I have not had many body acceptance struggles in my life but looking in the mirror, I had to take a moment to shake all the negative thoughts from my head. From the shoulders up, I look deceiving well. My family doctor commented on how well I looked today.
An inner switch that moved me to a new level of acceptance has been turned on. I may live for another three months or another six. That is not within my knowing. That rests within God’s good hands. I feel a calmness within that is reassuring. I do not know if this is a permanent state or if it will come and go, but for now, I appreciate landing here in reality.
What do you do with something that is hard to accept?
What experience might you have had that shifted profoundly for you in its nature?
You who know the number of our days, help us to accept our reality with peace and courage while continuing to live fully. Open my hands to your plan. May I participate fully and joyously in it. Amen.