Broken Vessels: Four Gifts of Many

My cervical (neck) vertebrae are slowly being crushed by increasing stenosis. As result, I am experiencing bilateral nerve impingement in both hands.With a clumsy finger, which happens more often than not, I lost everything I wrote today, as well as my entry to online banking since I managed to mess it up by trying four times. I find keyboard computing more and more frustrating. I know I can use my voice to dictate what I write if my hands continue to disobey me, but that would be a big learning curve which I would rather not attempt right now.

Though I erased the words of my early morning thoughts, I do remember that I was addressing how I am dealing with so many losses at all at once. As I have written before, gratitude and grief are wound round a staff like snakes on a Caduceus. I never knew this before my husband died and I wouldn’t have believed you if tried to convince me 18 months ago. From a spiritual point of view, I could have mentally comprehended this theory. To discover the insignia’s truth by living through the worst pain I have ever endured, was the only way to integrate the radical nature of healing from such a loss.

Losing Richard meant losing my entire way of life, and all of the identities I acquired over our almost 50 years together. I flowered into a sixty six year old woman from the bud of a teenage girl within the sweet bond of our long intimate relationship. That vessel is broken never to be mended. We lived very full lives together as dancers, musicians, actors, spiritual seekers, parents, psychotherapists, and homesteaders.

My body long ago began withdrawing into the reality of secondary progressive MS. Many of those sub-indentities (mother, gardener, chef, cheese maker, teacher, active interfaith minister, etc.) were already fading. This contributed to the shock of Richard being the one to die first from an aggressive form of lymphoma. He was the vigorous one who held his counseling practice in one hand and his sheep and horses in the other. I was the one who was disappearing.

Gift number one (and this from someone who desperately cringed at the phrase “the gift of cancer” for both patient and caregiver) was that I was summoned out into the world again. In spite of my bodily pain and exhaustion, I had to be the one to supervise moving everything out of the house to sell it. The point person through Richard’s increasingly miserable chemo-therapies also had to be me. Though we hired wonderful help along the way, and our many friends and family members pitched in to navigate the dark waters, (we would have drowned without them) I was his primary anchor as he faced his death. My bottled genie was released and though I am even more compromised than before, I wouldn’t be able to crawl back inside even if I wanted to. Which I don’t.

Gift number two is knowing that the amount of emotional pain I experience is directly proportional to the amount of love we shared.

Gift number three is that once I allow myself to let my heart/guts rip open in howlingkeeningshrilling grief, I am cleansed and left open in a vast emptiness of unbounded silence. Paradoxically, I become a whole vessel embodying more peace and contentment than I have ever felt in my life before. This space requires no effort or striving. It just is, and seems to underlie Everything. If it is great loss that brings me there, I now welcome it.

Gift number four is witnessing the loving kindness from near and far that has poured my way. Family friends, and strangers showed up at my door for days and weeks and months with all manner of support from the practical to the ethereal in those last holy days of his dying. I see for myself that Love endures despite the worldly backdrop of our colossal human ignorance.

Without grief at this depth, there would be no equally profound gratitude for living without my beloved. I know without a doubt that everything I love, I will lose. This includes my own life which I am passionately relearning to love. As I surrender to my broken vessel, gifts appear.

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