To Live Is To Be Willing To Die Over And Over Again

The waiting room is hushed and quiet. Very elegant.

Way more people are here than I ever imagined. There’s an older man with a huge white bandage on his face right across his entire nose. There’s a woman with a large white bandage across her forearm, one sleeve rolled up. Another older man has one shoe off but a sock on that foot, and the base of his trousers slightly rolled up.

The lighting is so pleasant, like a living room but with waiting room chairs in two square shapes.

My mom and I sit down in two open chairs next to one of the tables holding a lamp and lots of magazines.

This doesn’t look as much like a surgery center as I expected.

Except for the medical looking glass window and door opening and closing with nurses coming out calling peoples’ names.

“Grace?”

My turn.

Soon I’m on an operating table and things look a whole lot different in this room.

Beeps, machines, a few assistants, blue clothing.

The doctor I’ve seen comes in with a cap on her hair and leans over me saying hello. I smile.

I’m wheeled to the very middle of the room with a huge bright light overhead.

“You’re going to feel this at first–we’ve got some big injections to put into your leg.” I nod OK.

I had done The Work on this moment over the past several weeks, since learning I had a cancerous tumor on my right thigh.

I am strangely calm, taking it all in. I am watching, watching.

I feel the first injection like a searing knife pain, but after that even though the doctor says more are being put into my leg, and she asks if I can feel things, I say “no”.

There are nurses and assistants around. I hear them saying words like “OK, right here” and I know the doctor is cutting my leg but I can’t feel anything.

It gets a little weird when she saws, I can see she’s applying a lot of pressure and she says “ready…” and something about cauderizing and there’s movement and smoke rising up. Lots of smoke.

I say “what is that?”

She explains she is using a machine to burn the veins closed so there’s not so much bleeding.

Hmmm. Never knew they did this in surgeries.

“How big is the area you have to remove?” I ask.

“You want to see? We can get a mirror.”

Gulp.

“No thanks.”

Then, as I watch the tendrils of smoke rise up into the huge light overhead and hear footsteps and more sawing motions from the doctor….

….even though I don’t feel anything physical except pressure and movement from rocking a little….

….a tear begins to fall out of the corner of each eye down the side of my face, quietly.

Grief rises up.

I have cancer and now my leg is having a chunk of it cut out and burned and I’m so deeply aware of my temporariness in this life.

No, I don’t want to see it, are you kidding me?

And strangely following almost immediately this idea….

….the feeling of the hopelessness of this situation and not fighting anything (what am I going to do–tell them to stop cutting?) and awareness of the fear and awareness of nothing I can possibly do about it, a kind of strange inner giving up.

Who would I be without a stressful thought in this situation that feels so scary?

Noticing the stunning idea this doctor has just had, to ask me if I want to see what she’s doing.

Astonishing.

Like she thinks I could handle it, even if I don’t think I could handle it. Later, it even becomes a joke for me.

It’s HILARIOUS! (Do I want to see it? HA HA HA!)

They do all kinds of tight bandaging and I actually use crutches and maneuver upright into the waiting room with instructions not to putany weight on that leg, and sit next to my mom, feeling nothing in my leg, even though it is not yet stitched up.

I have to wait while they test all the tissue to see if they got all the margins 5 centimeters in every direction and all the way down to the fascia (although the doctor tells me she’s making sure not to cut into and remove any muscle).

My mom is so supportive, I love she’s here.

She’s had cancer, too. Breast cancer age 36. She’s right here solidly with me, but now that I think about it, she’s not freaking out at all.

Just here. No panicking.

It’s just amazing. I can sit here, in a chair, with my leg completely cut open and not stitched up, and not feel it.

Is this my leg? It seems like it is a leg, but not my leg. Like I am part of the life force of this body, but not this body. Like it’s a piece of meat, this leg, and it’s rather funny really.

I am not this body!

In about 30 minutes they call me back into the operating room and I’m back on that table and the doctor is telling me “clean margins” and she’s saying she’s closing it up. Lots of stitches. Inside first in layers, then 50 stitches on the surface pulling the gaping skin together.

The weird thing….and maybe it means it wasn’t really that big a deal….

….it never really hurts that much. I don’t take any pain medications for it. I can walk again in a few days.

Sometimes I get afraid of cancer.

I think “it would be horrible to have another cancer incident” or “I don’t want it to be terminal” or “I want to live into my 80s” or “I never want to get cancer again as it would surely be worse next time”.

But I’m with my dear friends who get cancer, my sisters who get cancer.

Everybody has their feelings and they get terrified, or sad.

But they also forget about it! They go through all the steps of treatment, make decisions, follow suggestions, learn and do research.

Sometimes they even invite friends to go to appointments with them and get tons of support, and laugh in the waiting rooms.

Yes, sometimes people die, too.

All I know is….it appears my idea that its the worst that could happen (getting cancer, dying) isn’t true.

How would I know?

So far, even with big heart-breaking feelings, life moves on….and I’m not dead yet.

“The essence of life is that it’s challenging. Sometimes it is sweet, sometimes it is bitter. Sometime your body tenses, and sometimes it relaxes or opens. Sometimes you have a headache, and sometimes you feel 100 percent healthy. From an awakened perspective, trying to tie up all the loose ends and finally get it together is death, because it involves rejecting a lot of your basic experience. There is something aggressive about that approach to life, trying to flatten out all the rough spots and imperfections into a nice smooth ride….To live is to be willing to die over and over again. From the awakened point of view, that’s life. Death is wanting to hold on to what you have and to have every experience confirm you and congratulate you and make you feel completely together.” ~ Pema Chodron

Who would you be without the belief that your medical condition, your physical ailment, your painful incident, that accident, disease, injury….was all bad?

Noticing the unexpected, the chaos, the mystery, the weirdness of all this.

Even the benefits.  

Like right now looking back and realizing how it wasn’t all terribleness that actually happened.

Connection, love, appreciation, tears, awe and gratitude happened, too.

Much love,
Grace

15 Responses to To Live Is To Be Willing To Die Over And Over Again

  1. What a great scene you describe! Thank you for the additional proof that we often assume DEAD when it’s not. Wow, so funny. Much love, Grace

  2. Catching up on my Gracenotes after a weekend at the Oregon coast, I need to share what a seagull showed me on Saturday. He was getting tumbled by the waves, unable to get a grip on the land or fly up out of the surf. Up and back he went. Ouch! I wondered if I should do something, but my husband commented that we were seeing the natural end of his life cycle. I knew he was right, and we walked on.

    Several hours later, I walked the beach again, alone this time. And who should be standing on the moist sand at the high water line? The same bird. Looking like he’d been pulled through a knothole backward, but fluffing his feathers, grooming himself, and on his feet.

    It hit me like a ton of bricks! It ain’t over ’til it’s over! He may have been old and tired, but he wasn’t DEAD! And if those metaphorical tumbles in the surf happen to us, they won’t necessarily kill us. Here’s where I do my hilarious Grace Laugh: HA HA HA!

    Thank you for your on-going perspectives, Grace. I hope Breitenbush was wonderful. Besos from Amy

  3. Thank you dearest Linda. Also, some people think since I wrote in the present tense that this just happened but it was ten years ago. Such a powerful experience. Much love to you, Grace

  4. Beautiful share, thank you so much for writing. What an amazing experience, to move closely to the space between life and death, and find the beauty of it all. So appreciate you sharing your touching story. Much love, Grace

  5. Dear Grace,

    Your beautiful note written on June 23 touched me quite deeply this evening. In recent years I have become so much more accepting of the idea of “living is to be willing to die over and over again.” My most recent “death” occurred in March of this year when I was diagnosed with pulmonary embolism. Prior to this diagnosis and subsequent hospitalization I almost died, providing me with a near death experience where my witnessing consciousness saw my physical body dying and unable to breathe. It was a most amazing experience. Of course, I am grateful that I did not die, but I was prepared to die. As I witnessed my dying body I was not afraid. I acknowledged to myself that my body was dying and began to say prayers requesting protection for my family and other loved ones and also expressed gratitude for my life and for the many abundant blessings that I had enjoyed during my life.

    As you described, in my awakened state, I did not catastrophize the unfolding situation. I was thankful for the beautiful aspects of my hospitalization, including the wonderful phone calls and in-person visits, the wonderful expertise demonstrated by the doctors and nurses, the quiet time that I had for deep reflection and for expressing happiness about my body’s capacity for healing.

    Thanks again for sharing and touching us with your wisdom and for giving us another inspiring example of how Byron Katies’s The Work can be applied to bring us greater strength and to help us face life’s most painful moments with dignity and acceptance.

    Sincerely,

    McKinley Williams

  6. my dear one,
    have had three cancers and yes there was a presence they required that does not happen in ordinary life;its intimate and alive; demanding all of you. i really recall missing the pain post surgery; it was such an alive companion.
    you are in my thoughts and so grateful for your share….and you.
    love,linda

  7. You are very, very welcome. Those mammograms! And this experience although I wrote in present moment because it was so very bright and clear that it was time to write it today, it was actually ten years ago (I probably could have mentioned this–ha ha!) So now, I have a scar but I appear to be very well. Thankyou for your comment. Much love, Grace

  8. Oh so welcome, Liz. Thank you so much for writing. And what a beautiful thing you say “the only limits to my freedom are those I surround myself with.” Much love to you as well, Grace

  9. I am having my mammogram and ultrasound this week and it was so good to read your post.
    Thank you for reminding us The Work;-)
    Sending you my brightest wishes to say hope you get well soon!

  10. Well Grace a massive, humungous thank you. I am experiencing the very depths of my belief system shattering and you have taken those shattered pieces and made them into a mirror for my understanding.
    So human and real and honest and flowing with acceptance. All your e mails right now are of such benefit to me. they make me laugh, cry and fill me a sense of relief. I am no different to anyone else and I am still unique and the only limits to my freedom are those I surround myself with.
    Look forward to more and maybe having a session sometime. Am up for it, all of it. Bring it on.
    With love to you, amazing Grace.
    Liz x

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