Friday, September 6, 2013
One operates at a peculiar crossroad
where time and place and eternity somehow meet.
The problem is to find that location.
Flannery O'Connor, a paraphrase
The phone rang. My cousin's daughter's voice was low and unsteady. "We just took Mom to the hospital." I had talked to her last week, her life force was wonderfully in tack. Suddenly, my healthy eighty-four year old cousin who walks four miles a day, works out at the gym three times a week and volunteers at the hospital has lost half her blood and the transfusions are not correcting the situation.
We wait for the tests. Two day later: she has an excessively aggressive, acute leukemia. Her choices: "brutal chemo treatments" or do nothing and "die within days." This is Thursday. God, first of the week? I am deeply shakened. What must she feel? I can't imagine no more talks, visits, no more cousin on this side.
Knowing she has come to a crossroad, I call her dreading the question she may pose. Her breathing is labored. However, she is self possessed, matter of fact but her voice is quiet, weakened. Normally, her energy comes bursting through the phone. Not this morning. Her first words are, "Augusta, frankly I don't have time to die (business, family's needs and hospital work). This is all so shockingly fast. Yet, if this is it, I want you all to be happy for me."
She is no stranger to "death" having lost her husband and her forty year old son within the last few years. Her awareness-veil between here and the "other side" is wonderfully thin. She knows life, love, learning, and awareness continue -- that a mere capsule of dust cannot contain or explain these immensities. Yet I sense her indecision.
She continues, "I don't know what to do. I am thinking of taking the chemo." She pauses, her voice is strained, "What would you do?"
What bothers me is that I don't know what I would do -- and more importantly why don't I? I have read the books, was a hospice care giver for years, spent a week with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross*, hear from Guides who are certainly not on this side and know in my being everything my cousin does. With our experience why don't either of us know?
As she talks I see a tableau taking place in my mind's eye. A four year old brother is coming up behind his smaller sister. He gives her a forceful shove, caught unaware, she falls to the ground. Disorientated, undecided whether to cry or not, she needs time to get her balance as she struggles to her feet saying, "I'm ok Grandma."
My cousin needs time and space for her balance, wisdom, knowledge and instincts. A cross road with more directions than merely Yes or No -- a way forward that allows for the rich sea chest of probability, possibilities that are not definitive. She may well decide by the second week to discontinue the chemo or she may not. I do not know "where time and place and eternity somehow will meet." I simple do not know the answer for her or for me.
On the phone she is quietly waiting. I reply, "Cousin of mine, 'I don't know' is the answer."
*Kubler-Ross: a pioneer in near-death studies and the author of the groundbreaking book "On Death and Dying" identifying for the first time in western medicine, the five stages of grief.
photo source: fotolia.com