Angels

A family member of the Boyfriend died of cancer yesterday.  I won’t go into that here because his family isn’t one to broadcast anything about them, and I want to respect that.

What has been on my mind lately is something that a hospice nurse said to us while we were sitting in the hospice room for Boyfriend’s family member: “I’m not really religious or anything, but what I do believe is that angels come to us before we die.  I’ve had patients, right before they pass, begin talking to people who aren’t in the room.  When I ask them who they are speaking to, they’ll say a spouse or their parent who has been long gone.  I had one patient say right before he died: ‘Amazing.’  So I truly believe that our loved ones come to us before we die, and they take us to where we’re going next.”

Most of my friends and family members rarely hear me discuss religion or anything spiritual.  Heck, I bet some would guess I’m atheist (I’m not).

I was raised Catholic, and when I turned 16 and had my confirmation, my father told me that I was an adult in the church’s eyes.  If I didn’t want to go to church, I didn’t have to go.  So I didn’t, much to some of my family members’ dismay.  My father never pressured me to return to church, which I am grateful for.  I’ve had issues with the Catholic religion based on their social views, and because of that, it’s not been a religion I want to associate myself with.  I felt then, and I still do to this day, the Catholic Church is behind the times, and it’s oppressive.

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Good little Catholic girl?

The God I choose to believe in is not a spiteful or vengeful God, and He created us all in his likeness.  I remember one time, in high school, this girl in my yearbook class was on this rant about homosexuality.  She was talking about how it’s a sin, according to the Bible.  When I asked her the last time she went to church or read the bible, she cursed me out.   (Yeah, I wasn’t popular in high school.)

While I haven’t been to a church or service, really, for most of my adult life, I haven’t stopped believing.   Most of my belief in God and heaven is tied up with my mom.  I want to believe that I will see her again, and I’ve always felt her presence in my life when I needed strength.  When I was in an emergency room in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, after experiencing the then-most tragic event in my life, I was talking to her in between sobbing.

When I heard the hospice nurse talk about those about who are about to die who see their loved ones, I almost lost it.  (I waited until I was in the car by myself before sobbing.)  I have no doubt that my mother would be there, my grandfather (her father) and my grandmother (my dad’s mother) will be those who I see.  The idea that while still alive, I’ll still see my lost loved ones again filled my heart in a way I hadn’t felt, probably ever.  In that moment in the hospice room, I physically felt my beliefs, if that makes sense.  I was overcome with such extreme emotion that I was afraid I was going to make a scene in front of Boyfriend’s family, which would have been the absolute worse.

The nurses there also reminded me that there are angels on Earth.  Those who provide hospice care to the dying are absolute angels.  To do what they do, day in and day out, I’m just blown away.  It definitely takes a special type of person to be surrounded by death and their grieving loved ones, and still be smiling and asking, “What can I do for you?”

Even those this wasn’t my family member dying, it was still awful to watch him/her dying.   Watching anybody dying is pretty horrifying.  This was my first time being so death-adjacent after my own cancer diagnosis, and it was frightening to watch.  I felt bad for the actual person dying, helpless watching Boyfriend and his family be so distraught, and then guilty for wondering, “Is this my future?”

Boyfriend’s family member is at peace and no longer suffering.  I hope whoever greeted him/her onto his next journey was someone incredibly special.

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest from it.”

Mark Twain

Book Report: “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed

“I didn’t get to grow up and pull away from her and bitch about her with my friends and confront her about the things I’d wished she’d done differently and then get older and understand that she had done the best she could and realize that what she had done was pretty damn good and take her fully back into my arms again. Her death had obliterated that. It had obliterated me. It had cut me short at the very height of my youthful arrogance. It had forced me to instantly grow up and forgive her every motherly fault at the same time that it kept me forever a child, my life both ended and begun in that premature place where we’d left off. She was my mother, but I was motherless. I was trapped by her, but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could full. I’d have to fill it myself again and again and again.”

— Cheryl Strayed, “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”

Back in February, my blog post “Don’t Disappear from the Pictures,” which I had cross-posted on The Huffington Post, was well received.  Much to my surprise, it received thousands of likes, and the blog was shared more than 1,800 times.  When my friend, Julia, read it, she messaged me on Facebook, and highly recommended I read the book “Wild.”  She promised I would love it, and I would relate to it 100 percent.  She then assigned it to me as a book report and get back to her in two weeks.

Yeah. . . it took me three months to finish, though that had nothing to do with the book itself.  Sorry Julia!

Cheryl Strayed is an amazing writer.  Hands-down, this is the best memoir I have ever read.  (Right now, I’m reading “Orange is the New Black,” and I’m noticing a difference between showing, not telling – Piper Kerman tells and Cheryl Strayed shows.)  I highly recommend everyone should read this, especially if you’ve experienced a profound loss in your life.  Even though Cheryl’s situation was different than mine – her mother died of cancer when she was in her early 20s, and mine died of cancer when I was only 7 – the emotions and the ache for your mother when you need her the most is the same.  I related to her anguish, sorrow and determination to figure out her life without her mother in it.

When I came across the above passage, I re-read it several times, just letting the words soak in.  “She would always be the empty bowl that no one could fill.  I’d have to fill it myself again and again and again.”   The loss of my mother has defined me – the motherless girl.  She died at an age where I never fought with her.   I didn’t rebel against her or done any other teenage-angst daughter stuff that mothers endure.  Since she died when I was seven years old, she was frozen in time as the Ideal Mother.  She was my fantasized “what if” world.  When I reached adulthood, I began viewing her as a real person, someone who was far from perfect but loved her family very much.

When I reached adulthood, the loss of my mother defined me again – I had to get annual screenings for the same disease that killed her.   I didn’t have her guidance or knowledge as I navigated breast cancer myself.  I never felt as alone or as empty as I did during chemotherapy.   I had to keep filling my bowl, so speak, by befriending others going through this as well.  I didn’t have her, but I wasn’t alone.

“Wild”  inspired me.  Her story made me even more determined to work on my story, and make it count.  To show, not tell.   To pour my heart into my story, just like Cheryl Strayed did.