This has been a pensive couple of weeks for me as at this time two years ago I was hanging out in the ICU of Marquette General Hospital learning a lot about living, dying, choosing, and how important oxygen is. At this same time last year the thoughts were actually too overwhelming for me to sort through and write about, so I let the date pass by barely noted. I took it so far as to let blogging pass by altogether and only wrote 3 posts in 2012. Now I feel just that much farther away from the experience that if feels like a good time to capture some of the memories and begin to share some of my learning. Bear with me please, as this is likely to get long. I’m giving myself full permission though, as pivotal moments in one’s life should not be forced to meet our tweet-sized attention spans.
It is an incredibly frightening thing to not be able to take a breath. I have easily accessible flashback images in my mind of my body bucking, eyes wide, wrists in restraints, as I struggled to suck oxygen into pneumonia-filled lungs. “This must be what it feels like to drown”, I thought. “If I could gasp harder, maybe I could get enough.” But there was no room at the inn… no place to put a breath, even if I could manage to coax it into my crowded lungs.
Western medicine gave me the opportunity to stop trying to do it on my own. It’s often hard for me to ask for help with something as simple as doing the dishes, yet here I had no choice but to surrender completely and let my breathing be done for me. While medical staff monitored my vitals, the ventilator breathed me, tubes kept me fed and peed, sedatives kept me comatose-calm, family sat by my bedside, and a world of loved ones prayed in their various ways…. I got to journey through the darkest nooks and crannies of my soul until I found that resting place at the edge of death. Or was it at the beginning of life? Hard to tell when you’re there. There are no signs saying “Welcome to Death’s Door!” or an arrow pointing “Life -> This Way”. Even Mr. Google Webs didn’t have an image that looked like it when I searched. I think it’s a place we just know when we arrive. It was oddly familiar.
Time, like location and direction, have little relevance in that state of being. Trying to recall things and align my inner memories with the memories of those standing by me, I read my sister’s caring bridge posts so I could see what was happening up here on dry land while I traveled below. I can’t relate the timing I read about to what was happening deep inside my dreaming state. What she reported, though loving and surely correct, had nothing I could relate to in it until the ‘conscious sedation’ period started. I have vivid memories, but have no sense of their accuracy, the truth of them, or if they would be seen as ‘real’ to anyone but me. And yet to me, they were as real as anything gets.
So, why did it happen anyway? Sure, I was stressed and run down… sure, there was a virus I caught… sure, there was ‘something going around’… surely the sneaky smoking I was doing beforehand increased my odds. And I know it was more than that. When I was a kid, my mom went to Hungary to learn about Conductive Education. Before she went, she had to learn Hungarian in a hurry to prepare herself. Berlitz was the answer back then. She studied intensely, then went off to Hungary to do what she’d gone there to do. I feel like this ventilator experience was my Berlitz course for LIFE. I’m on a journey in this life of mine which calls for learning that at a “normal” pace would never have had me ready in time. And so, somewhere in the depths of my soul, I opted for the ‘fast track’… being taken down to my default setting and rebooted, so to speak. Some days I feel like my very DNA must have changed. Curly hair is my daily reminder.
Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole and never seeming to stop, or being down in the dripping caves where Gollum searches for his Precious, part of that time was the time of falling…tumbling… finding my way through the darkest recesses of my thoughts and battling the darkest of demons.
Until… I came to that resting place.
When I think of the energies of the North and Winter, I think of this time and this resting place. It was emotionless, thoughtful, without judgement, and a time of sorting and assessing. Though the tumbling to it was filled with emotions like fear, terror, panic… once I arrived, it just was what it was.
I was not alone in this still place. Some would tell me that I was there with God, Goddess, Jesus, Allah, or an angel of some sort… or my Captain, Guides, Higher Self, Future Self, or some other Archetype from my inner world. Some would say none of it was real and that it was an ‘interesting hallucination’. Truth is, I don’t feel I need to know who or what that was. What I do appreciate is that in that moment, I was given the opportunity to review my life, look at death to my immediate right, and sort it out objectively with a non-judgmental listener right across from me.
My-oh-my was death ever an appealing option! Tempting, tempting, tempting it was. What a fine reward we have awaiting us at the end of this physical existence! Maybe it’s just me that has such glorious light and infinite bliss and peace waiting for me, but I highly doubt it. It sure felt like something we all get to have, though it would be presumptuous of me to say that what I experienced is what you or your loved ones will. Though my life felt mostly complete, and though the ‘Door’ on my right was mightily tempting, it wasn’t my time. Yet. I had some things I still wanted to engage in and see how they turned out. And so it was… I chose LIFE.
(You know, it feels very bold to say that, as people have strong opinions, beliefs, and theories based in their religions, science, personal experience or gut instincts. You might be feeling all cocky and thinking you know what that was… that you know I didn’t choose Life, but that God chose for me. I beg you to remember, that until we have truly walked in someone’s shoes…..)
For over a year and a half after choosing, I was frankly very ambivalent about my choice. This whole living thing seemed like a bit of a bother. I was happy at times, of course, and moved and pissed off and surrounded by amazing people and awed by the Universe. I was really fine with being alive, most days, but at the same time I felt I may have made the wrong decision. People who love me didn’t like hearing me say things like that, but as you well know, life can be really hard. I came back to massive hospital debt, a relationship that fell apart as soon as I came home from the hospital, a teenager that didn’t like me much, and a body I no longer recognized. I got back to work a bit too soon with my brain, eyes, emotions, and memory not ready yet. Somehow, I carried on doing what needed to be done. Taxes needed doing. FAFSA applications were past due. Clients missed me. My kids needed parenting. Money needed to be raised for medical bills. People around me both listened and tired of my stories. They had stories to tell me too, and they’d missed the listener usually was for them. It was easy to fall into business as usual, even though I knew that my life was now divided in two parts: Before Choice and After Choice.
What happened? Well… I kept working… I wrote some… I raised money… I worked with healers… I talked to people who could help me see things differently… and I started going after a long-held dream. I worked on my Life Purpose statement… dug a little deeper… explored the complexity of my inner world… prayed… journaled… hiked… talked with friends… listened to music… hiked, prayed, and worked some more. I laughed and cried… A LOT.
So now, two years later, I’m poised and ready to launch into a next stage of living. The story of the Phoenix comes to mind. My daughter, my youngest, is turning 18 and graduating in June. I begin leading CTI’s Leadership program in April — that long-held dream I mentioned earlier. In these last two weeks I’ve decided to sell my home, shed my belongings, and move into my mother’s basement for the next while. This will relieve me of my hospital debt, allow me to be available to my dear mom, and give me a chance to prepare for what’s next. LIFE is calling, and being weighed down by brick, mortar and mortgages doesn’t make sense any longer. This House is sprouting wings and will need hollow bones and a clear heart to fly.
Thanks for being with me on the journey. Every prayer, card, call, Facebook post, flower, donation, visit, listening, affirming, and moment of curiosity and support mattered.
With Love to you and gratitude for the remarkable cycles Life and Death,