I hope I don’t die in the spring.
I remember exactly where I was when I had that disconcerting thought. I was driving with the sunroof open through the busiest intersection of my urban neighborhood, looking up at a billboard while the sun glared behind it. The city workers had started putting barrels of flowers on the sidewalks for aesthetic purposes, and I lilacs were blooming in front of the garage next to the condo I had just bought with my newlywed husband.
Spring, my favorite time of year, was drawing people out of triple-deckers, buds out of branches and shoots out of the ground after a winter of record snowfall. I knew I should be joyful and rejuvenated, as I am every year when the chill finally lifts from Boston, but my heart was heavy and full of dread. This is what it must feel like to be dying, I thought. It would be easier if everything else around me were dying too. I hope I don’t die in the spring.
Looking back, it’s a good sign that I imagined my death to be many decades away. I had spent a fair amount of my winter in the hospital, first seeking relief from my ongoing battle with Crohn’s disease, then having surgery to relieve it, then having a second surgery to reverse my temporary ostomy. Knowing what I knew about the fragility of health and beaten up by a disease I’d done nothing to deserve, expecting to live until old age was a triumph of optimism over recent experience.
That kernel of hope was one of the few good things growing in me. The stress of illness and convalescence brought out dread in my heart. I lay awake with obsessive thoughts and guilt over gaining weight now that I could eat again. Flashes of rage – usually self-directed – popped up without warning. Living with an ostomy had for two months had left me feeling out of control and foul. My body, weakened with inactivity, could barely walk without pain, and I was terrified that this new pain would become chronic.
This was a dark night of the soul – and of the mind, and the heart, and the body. It certainly felt like part of me was dying.
Slowly, over the course of the summer and into the fall, some part of me was reborn as well. Part of it was the miracle and mystery of time. What else helped? Therapy. Exercise (and the physical therapy that made it possible. As it turns out my pain was not chronic). Faith.
Faith had to look different during those hard months that followed hard years. I had no strength to will myself into belief. I had to let faith happen to me. Sometimes this meant letting my friends and family carry me, letting them believe for me as we went to church, as we sat in prayer, as we did acts of service. Sometimes it meant going through motions, as I had for all those months that I had to sit during mass because I was too weak to stand. I knew I could trust the motions to lead me into inexplicable – and perhaps imperceptible – grace.
I let myself be carried, and I waited. And I trusted.
I’m out of that dark night now, though I know that these little deaths and rebirths are a part of life and that dark nights will be back for me. I also know that my strength comes not from anything I do, but from the communities I have around me that lift me up.
How have you come out of your dark places?
I’m linking up with Addie Zierman’s syncroblog on the occasion of her book release. I’ll be sharing a review of Night Driving – a copy of which was provided to me by the publisher – later this week.
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Thank-you for that! I am accompanying my mom who is dying of Cancer at moment and is living with me. Your words have helped me today
God Bless and hope u feel better
Margaret Felice says
Your comment humbles me. I am so sorry that you are going through such a trial and honored that you took the time to write a note. Prayers for you and your family.
Megan Turner says
Thank-you! It is easy to lose Faith at these times and good to know that others ‘carry you’.
My late wife had a colostomy, as did my dad, which died from colon cancer. I have vowed that should I develop colon issues requiring an osteomyelitis, that I would decline and let disease take its course. I shall print out your inspired and courageous article and keep it with me. If ever I should face this decision, your insights may very well reverse my intentions and extend my life. Thank you so much for the grace shared in this article
Margaret Felice says
It’s really good to hear from you, Frank! I didn’t realize that two of your family members had dealt with ostomies – they are certainly no fun. My prayer of course is that you will never need one, but if you do, I hope you will make the best decision for your emotional and physical health. Much love –
Karen Seay says
I am still traveling the road of a dark period of grief from losing my mother and my brother in the space of seven weeks last year. The losses were complicated by the fact that both of their lives were difficult. My brother suffered from alcoholism and more than thirty years of homelessness. He died on the street outside a homeless shelter. I have no explanation of how I am moving through these times, except that I have a conviction that nothing – no matter how hard – is ever lost. Every experience is material for creating something new and more hopeful for the world and humanity. If God’s love means anything, that is the meaning for me. So, as I grieve, I also am filled with gratitude for the privilege of having loved and still loving those given to me to love and for all I have experienced and learned and continue to through their lives and their deaths.
“I had to let faith happen to me.” I think that’s the best faith, but also the hardest. Blessings as you continue your week and for the future dark places.
Thanks for sharing. Physical pain is so dark. As a chronic pain sufferer, I feel less alone when i hear a story like this. Glad your pain didn’t turn chronic. Peace to you.
Christian LeBlanc says
“About 9 years ago I stepped out one morning to pick up the paper, stepped out into a perfect muted Fall morning: gently grey sky, leaves past their prime; cool, damp air. Now, I associate with Autumn, not just death in general, but my own death in particular. For decades I’ve had the expectation that I’ll die in late Fall, the cusp of Winter, while reading a book in the bedroom, in a red sweater, with the window open enough to feel the cool air and hear the crows & bluejays complaining. No cancer or y’know, unpleasant stuff. And if I could plan it, the music would be “Beim Schlafengehen” by Richard Strauss.” http://platytera.blogspot.com/2008/10/ode-to-joy.html
Addie Zierman says
Love the idea of “letting faith happen to you.” Beautiful. Thanks so much for reading and for linking up Margaret.