The title of my post comes from a book by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross by the same title. It was required reading for volunteers in our hospice facility that I volunteered in. My post comes from the anniversary of my mom’s death many years ago.
My mom died from breast cancer back in 1971. I was 15 at the time. I only knew cancer to be a tragedy then. While in my early thirties I had a thirst for understanding what life was about, after experiencing significant adversity in my own life including my mother’s death. I was so fortunate to have volunteered in a children’s oncology camp, Camp Good Days and Special Times in upstate New York. It was there that I began to learn more about this disease.
Children of all ages and from all parts of the globe arrived to spend a week with other kids who were all battling cancer. I was emotionally devastated by this reality, and wondered what I could offer. What I realized was that listening to their stories was the best gift I could give them. For many they had secrets or tales that they could not share with their families since they were so destraught. Althought I was there to volunteer, I quickly realized that I was the student and they were the teachers.
Each story was told to me in private. They trusted me enough to share these inner secrets. And as kids, their intention was only pure. There were several who told me about “experiences” they had in the hospital or at home while alone in their room. They were mystical in nature, seeing angels, religious figures and all amazing. It was easy to know that they were honest since so many shook as they talked, and of course were just kids. As a result I heard several times that they were okay with their disease and knew that they would be okay (although okay in this way did not just mean healed). I was in tears each time.
I befriended one of these kids who was from Poland and promised to visit her. It was the time of my life, living such a simple yet challenging life. At the end of my visit she pulled out a poem she had created a year ago while in the hospital when she was concerned that she would not make it. I wish I kept a copy. It was titled, What I learned from cancer. We cried together as she shared how meaningful cancer had been in her life. I was amazed at how a 15 year old could be so wise beyond her years. She died a year later and her memory forever remains.
Years later I volunteered in hospice where I spent the final days with many wonderful human beings. Once again it was nothing less than a spiritual experience. So many shared their stories and conversations they had with friends and family the day before, only to find out from their families that these people had already died.
From this it finally helped me deal with my Mom’s passing. The night before she died, while in a coma for several days, she woke up and was so alert. She smiled in her famous way and said to all of us “I will be 100% better” and then died. I had no idea what this meant, at that time yound and praying for a miracle. Now I know that she is in a better place.
I guess this is all to say that what I have learned is that there is meaning to life. It seems ridiculous to share this with those who are going through so much pain and fear. I know this from going through my own painful times. One final story from Anita Moojani, who has since published a book on her experience with cancer, helped me to feel assured that there is indeed meaning, even during our most painful times.
In any case, it is the reality of cancer that people need to grapple with. I am so sorry that people have to experience this pain even if there is meaning to it. I pray for all of you and wish you the best, and if I can, suggest the thought that you are now an amazing teacher, helping to teach so many others about what is really important, just as the kids did for me. Look at the thousands walking to raise funds and increase awareness today. Your message is indeed being heard!