The memory plays in my mind as if it just happened, but really, it was almost a year ago when I sat outside my doctor’s office without a doubt in my mind. I even recall saying to my mother, ‘I really hope they have good news for us, I’m not mentally prepared for anything else’. My certainty just felt so concrete. After receiving a stem cell transplant, three months prior, this was about to be a defining moment of whether it was successful.
The truth is, things don’t always happen the way you imagine them and the concrete scenario that I had poured into my mind started to crumble into dust. I sat in that office staring into my doctor's eyes, listening to her explain the gravity of this new reality. A reality I had only toyed with in the dark moments, a reality that I knew was possible but chose not to feed. But there it was, Death. I sensed my whole body tingle with impermanence and despite how hollowing it felt, I laughed. Experimental treatments would have been a long shot, and without treatment, my life wasn't foreseeable past two years. Nothing can prepare you for that kind of news and, despite the weight of what unfolded, I started to sit with something that would forever lighten my life.
If you’re lucky, death will knock first before it comes in. Thankfully, that was the case for me and most of you already know, my expiry date has changed. However, the lessons that I have learned from that window of uncertainty will forever remain. Fast forward, today, here I am. Sitting in my living room, fully living, sipping on tea and inviting Death in as loved and welcomed company. Not because I wish for death, but the reality is... it was always here.
Often times, I believe that if people had a moment of insight, true visceral insight, to how impermanent that their lives truly are, our idea of fully living would be forever changed. When you are gifted time to move through that space, there is a lot that you begin to learn and a lot that you begin to unlearn.
I recently had the privilege of joining Frank Ostaseski at the new Calgary Central Library for his discussion on Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully. His life’s work has been steeped in the teachings of death, dying, grief, loss and compassionate care which hits so close to home for many of us. My curiosity pulled me in, I had been contemplating whether my experience with death tied common threads with a larger collective. Through imagery, words, and connection, Frank was able to really bring home concepts that I found validating. It grounded me with a sense that I was not alone in my discoveries. Although I cannot recreate his message, I can share, that morning we were reminded… Don’t Wait!
Don’t wait for death to creep up on you, create a relationship with your endings. Some of us may think death, or dying, is something that we need to get through, but you don’t get through death. You get through life and we have to remind ourselves of this. How do we want to show up? What truly matters to us? Frank asked us to reflect on how we say good-bye, how we leave things. How do you meet our endings? These are the kind of reflections that will give us insight into how endings come into play in the bigger picture.
We spend so much time collecting but how much of that can we really take with us? I could remember times where I would be racing through life trying to make some kind of magic happen but ‘Don’t Wait’ doesn’t mean racing through life. We need to take time to make time! Sit with our deepest desires. What is it that gives you a sense of life!? You cannot pack your bags for the final destination so why not focus your energy on creating more spaces. Collecting memories instead of souvenirs because it’s a lot easier to move through the spaces than to move through the things we try to stuff into them.
After the discussion, I had a chance to speak with Frank a little bit one on one. His words were incredibly insightful and even though our time together was short, it was sweet. The last thing Frank shared with me before we parted ways was, “Don’t let anyone tell you how to live your life.” So with that in mind… I ask nothing of any of you. I only thank you for taking the time to share this experience with me. Now, Go, live your life, if you want to, it's knocking at your door.
. Ayla . @missaylanova .