We can’t always change the outcome of a disease, but we can change the way in which we experience that outcome.
Kate was 9 years old when she and I met. She had cancer of the heart muscle and her prognosis was dire.
Kate had wonderfully loving and supportive parents whose hearts were breaking because of what was happening to their darling girl. She already had developed
a remarkable spirit and took the limitations of her illness in her stride. She would say things like, “I’m unable to go to school anymore because I’m
just too sick. I guess Jesus will teach me everything I need to know when I get there.” She had one of the sunniest dispositions that I’ve ever met
and even when she walked into the room, frail and pale, she would light the room up with her loving spirit.
One day Kate brought me a picture she had drawn of the cartoon character, Garfield. He had 3 coloured hearts inside the bubble of his thoughts. Kate told
me she’d actually drawn 2 pictures but when she had put them on her windowsill, the wind had blown the other one away. She told me that the second
picture was also of Garfield but in this one the 3 coloured hearts inside the bubble of his thoughts were all shattered down the middle.
Sometimes hearts have to break
I hopefully suggested that perhaps the wind was telling her that she had no need of broken hearts. Kate replied, “No, Petrea, you don’t understand. Sometimes
hearts have to break before they heal.”
There is much in life over which we have little control – the weather, other people’s actions, choices or decisions, the death of someone dear to our hearts,
a diagnosis, disaster or drama are just some amongst these many things. The only thing over which we may have control is our response to such events
when they happen.
If we’re to find our inner equilibrium and happiness and not sink into bitterness, regret, resentment, guilt, overwhelming grief or blame then we must
take on the enormity of what has happened and make meaning of our suffering. Illnesses, accidents, traumas and disasters don’t hold intrinsic meaning;
it doesn’t mean something until we give it meaning. We may well have to weep about what happened, rail at it, talk about it or in some other way find
acceptance of what has happened so that we’re not diminished by life’s challenges.
Kate had the courage to embrace the difficult challenges of living with illness and dying at peace. Unafraid of having what were undoubtedly painful conversations,
she taught me a great deal about how to wholeheartedly be in the presence of another person’s anguish without trying to fix it, change it or make it
Love never dies
I learned that bearing witness to another person’s anguish while creating the space in which the unutterable can find its voice, is a great service in
itself. Just before she died, Kate reached out to the hands of her parents and squeezing them, she said, “I want you to love each other the way you’ve
loved me”. Surely there’s nothing more to learn about life than to leave behind the message that what really matters is love? And surely, we all know
that love never dies?
Many people struggle with the uncertainty of the future when they’re faced with their own mortality. Frequently the future represents an anxiety which
they feel cannot be discussed and this creates its own form of distress. Our Dying to Know weekend workshops address many of the practical and emotional
issues that arise when we’re contemplating our own or a loved-one’s mortality.
Terminals are for buses
People often ask me why I work with dying people. I can honestly say that I don’t know any dying people. I believe we’re either alive or we’re dead. While
we’re alive, we need to be given all the honour, respect, love and encouragement due to any living being, that’s why I don’t believe the word ‘terminal’
should ever be used about people. Terminals are for buses, trains and computers. Enough people have survived these ‘terminal’ diseases for all people
to be given the opportunity to be an exception.
Our Quest for Life intensive educational 5-day program is for people living with a life-threatening/inhibiting disease, not dying with a terminal one.
You are far more than the disease you might have and there are tools, skills, strategies and information that can make a positive difference in assisting
you to create an environment for profound healing of body, heart and soul.