Updated: Apr 15
The heart has an endless capacity to receive and give love. It has taken me a long time to learn how to live ‘through’ my heart, rather than through my thoughts; to trust that process with openness and assurity. I’ve learned that the mind can be an incredibly powerful tool to help us, but at the same time, it can bring us to places that are unhealthy.
I have been a Registered Nurse (RN) for 28 years; 22 of them as an Oncology RN, and these past 6 years, as a Hospice RN.
When my 28 year old baby sister, only 1 year and 4 months younger than me, was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), I began my journey and role as “the nurse,” more than the sister. Don’t get me wrong, it was a role that I put myself in; I wouldn’t have changed it in any way, it was what I was supposed to do. I lived here on the Monterey Peninsula at that time, so I was close by. She went through some intense treatments, but was doing fairly well.
We both got pregnant at the same time, went through the birthing classes together, and our daughters were both born early, and were only 5 weeks apart. Two years later, I moved to Ashland, Oregon, which was 8 hours away. I came down often, but Jill was hanging in there, and we have an exceptionally close family, who were all here locally to help, as well as her wonderful husband.
About a year after moving to Oregon, Jill started having trouble with her breathing; her diaphragm was not functioning well, related to her disease, and the treatments were no longer working. She had to face the discussion, of whether she wanted to have CPR, if her heart or breathing stopped. She was shocked when she was asked that question, because she was so young and optimistic. I think she probably believed she would get through this. She eventually was put on hospice care. I took a leave of absence from work, and moved down to help. Those weeks that Jill was on hospice care in her home were very special. Jill was so loved by her family; she was quiet, and had a non judgemental, dignified personality, but was really funny as well. When she was young, she would often laugh and cry at the same time. She was so very brave in all that she had to experience through her illness, and she trusted everyone; she had faith in everyone. She had always been an amazing friend; beloved to so many. Her girlfriends practically moved into the house; they were there 24 hours a day; my friends were there to support me; our large family was there; kids and animals running around laughing, sweet pea flowers (Jill’s favorite), fragrant, in vases around the house. We were all cohabitating and helping in the ways we were meant to help. On a beautiful evening in May, at sunset, Jill passed away. She died beautifully, in the most natural way. Although excruciatingly painful to go through this, it still had such a meaningful impact on so many, and continues to.
Going through the experience of losing Jill changed my life drastically. As I mentioned, the mind can bring us to unhealthy places. I returned to Oregon, and immediately started experiencing all of Jill’s symptoms. I was having severe neck aches, numbness and tingling, weakness and fatigue; an overall feeling of sickness. I was certain that I had MS myself. I had a full work up with a Neurologist, and an MRI, and of course, I was negative for MS. So, what was happening with me then? I had stored all of my grief, stress, and fear inside my body. In playing the nurse role, I had to remain calm and in control, and after I “got through it”, then I allowed my body to feel it, and it hit me full throttle. This was the beginning of change for me.
There are gifts in tragedy, and sometimes it can take years to see them. Losing Jill was so painful, but it started to ignite a flame in me that fueled several of my passions and attitudes about life.
~It made me realize that everyone of us needs to have our voice heard, and often, people need help to find theirs, and sometimes they need an advocate.
~Family isn’t always related to genes and blood types; it extends out and beyond.
~Connections are necessary; feeling connected to people and things, helps us to feel safe in the world.
~Taking care of our health inside and out is very important. To strive for balance and cohesiveness between our internal world and our external world, will help us achieve health and well being.
~Kindness helps the world go round, and it feels so awesome.
~Love makes the world work; it makes everything good; it makes things grow, and it helps people believe in humanity.
~I have learned to accept all that is. With acceptance, fears diminish.
~Movement, breath, exercise, even minimally each day, changes attitudes and has a big impact on our general well being.
~Openness in trying new things has changed my reality. The process of becoming vegan 13 years ago has been a big learning experience, and I’m still learning.
~Death is just as important as birth; it is part of the continuous path we call life. Once fear is released, there is great freedom.
~Living through my heart, rather than through my thoughts makes life more full and meaningful.
My hope is that this year and ahead, my experiences with life and death continue to teach me, so I can continue to support those who need it, through my End of Life Doula services, hosting the ‘Death Cafe,’ as well as sharing new vegan recipes, and who knows what else! I look forward to sharing all of this on Beyond Blog.