Initial Shock

Yesterday, my friend Patricia, sent me a link to a short article in Tricycle by the well-known writer’s writer, Natalie Goldberg. The article is called Old Age is not Guaranteed and is an excerpt from her new book called Let the Thundering World Come Home.

I liked it because it is a reminder of the shock that overtakes us when we receive threatening news about our mortality. And this happens even before we know all the facts. From the first hint that we are not in control of our bodies, our entire system reacts, no matter how we may have previously viewed our intellectual equanimity about our eventual demise. (preferably at a ripe old age.)

Natalie nails the disconnect that happens when we face the possibility that we may be running out of time.

My own immediate experience with a fearful diagnosis was also to be blind-sided. Nothing made sense. The world seemed surreal and my heart pounded so hard that I was convinced anyone standing within earshot could hear it.  When word got out, a young brilliant woman who was going through treatment, stopped me in my tracks when she said, “at least you have the skills to deal with this.”

At the time I thought, “what skills?” Her sincere statement wasn’t unkind or thoughtless.  She was in a program I taught about living well with cancer and she had made an assumption. At the time, it brought me up short.  I realized, however, that our “ knowledge or practices” do not protect us from the initial onslaught of emotions flooding our bodies, when first presented with life threatening news.

Our skills can and do kick in, but at the height of the storm we are simply trying not to capsize. It is all a blur and forward motion is not even on the radar. What helped me most in those early moments came from those who had also been afraid and did not attempt to minimize my fear or exacerbate it.

I think now of the gift basket that was dropped off the very next morning following my news. Two colleagues braved a blizzard in Calgary to bring me solace – a wicker basket containing a favourite blueberry muffin and a steaming cup of coffee; a book of poetry; a beautiful wool throw; flowers; cards; a journal and more. One warm hug from each and they were gone, back out into the storm.  Nothing required from me. I will never forget how this one thoughtful action helped calm the inner storm in which I found myself.

My agency was activated soon afterwards.

The article by Natalie Goldberg is timely for me because she points to something important to remember.  The upheaval most of us experience when we first get word of a life threatening diagnosis. The upheaval is not only natural and out of our control, but we will be required to ride it through, even while wishing it were not so. When the eruption subsides we can use the skills we have and  cultivate knew ones, to do what we need to do. There are none of us free from sickness, old age and death. Yet, we learn that we can lead meaningful, purposeful and loving lives, not all the time, but, much of the time even while co-existing with illness. And through it all, while not easy, we come to discover that it is doable and definitely worth the effort.

“We are born, and we die; and in between we have the chance to keep each other company, which is the thing that counts the most.” John Tarrant

Note 1: My heart goes out to everyone who gets blown over with devastating news. Ask for help, when you need it. We are all here to help and be helped. Trudy

Note 2: You may want to click on the link, at the beginning of this post, to read the excerpt from Natalie’s book. See you next week.