Life is strange and wonderful, joyous and painful. I often wonder if death is the same. I listened to a podcast the other day where a neuroscientist explains that the human brain is not equipped to understand the end of our own "self". What I can say from my own experience and journey with others in life, is that when we are faced with death - our own or someone close to us - it changes us. It's a suffering beyond anything we can ever imagine. I've also witnessed the other side of this suffering. People who begin living more fully, more compassionately and people dying peacefully and more whole.
The day before yesterday I started having pain on the left side of my head, it moved up and over the top of my head until I finally felt pain and intense pressure behind my eye. My eye started to feel itchy and when I looked in the mirror, almost the entire white of my left eye was blood red. I've seen burst blood vessels in people's eyes before so I didn't panic. I tried flushing my eye in case something was in it, but quickly realized the pressure was behind my eye. When I was 31 years old my mother had pressure behind her left eye. Her eye started to bulge, so finally she went to the doctor. They found a mass behind her eye. Weeks later my family and I gathered for a lovely dinner out in downtown Toronto, and the next morning she had surgery. I'll never forget the surgeon coming out to say that they found a tumour the size of a grapefruit in the space between her eye and her brain. How is that possible that something that large could hide away in her head like that? It was unfathomable. Before the surgery, we she had been told that she would need to have part of her face removed. They had explained that they would eventually rebuild her face. She even met a woman who had had the same procedure. What they didn't know was that my mom's cancer had metastasized. It was an intensely difficult time for us all, especially my mom. I remember one day her telling me that she had lived a very full life. She died less than six months later just before her 62nd birthday.
Back to the present day situation and you can understand why I decided it was best to have my eye checked. After seeing a doctor at urgent care then an eye doctor the next day, it's likely that the whole incident was brought on by my sudden sinus pressure. I had mowed and weed whacked the day before. Perhaps that was the cause. Time will tell.
What I can tell you today, is that I had already begun preparing for my own death. Not in a morbid way, but with a sense of clarity and purpose. If I had six months left to live, how would I like to spend it? I've been through this process before and, in fact, it's a practice of mine. Officially in Buddhism it's called Maranasati, but I had been practicing this mindful awareness of death ever since my mother died 28 years ago. It's why I started going on retreats, and being sure that my children were not completely dependent on me. I had a very strong urge to be "dispensable" and to this day, it affects how I choose to be in relationship with those I love, how I work and how I live. I have always used the term "loving detachment" because I'm a person who is fully immersed in loving people, the planet and life while at the same time preparing to detach from any of it at any time.
In the end, my surrendering to the reality of death is what led me to want to be fully alive. I am a spiritual director, a retreat facilitator and a mindfulness meditation teacher as a result. My hope is that all of you are finding your way to live into your truest self, your most authentic way of being. It's never to late to begin. Even the end is a beginning.
Originally written: August 20th, 2022 while preparing to travel to see my children. It was a wonderful reunion. We laughed, we cried, we shared memories, we created new ones. I made it home safely. I am grateful.