Paradise Lost

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven..”
― John Milton, Paradise Lost

During the thick of my chemo treatments I floated through in an optimistically focused fog.  Mid summer we were scheduled for our “survivorship” appointment with a counselor at Compass Oncology. Which felt a bit strange at the time as I still had 6 months of treatments to go. Anyway at that appointment we were warned about the feelings that come up for folks at the end of treatments.  With not uncommon hubris I thought to myself, “Surely I will have no problem with that.”  Well, perhaps it is the reality of three community members dying of cancer in the last three months, or learning about various people having a reoccurrence, plus a few more with a new cancering diagnosis, but anxiety is high at our house. I have lost a bit of my positive mojo, which feels like loosing my connection to heaven. Hell is believing in the permanence of any emotion.

“Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.”
― John Milton, Paradise Lost

On the John Hopkins medical center website they talk about the recovery process having two components the physical and the emotional/spiritual.  On one of the little videos a woman said something like, “The first year I spent dealing with all the physical issues of treatment and surgery, the second year I was coming to terms with all of it emotionally.” It was just the information I needed to receive this week.  I hope that the me my slow metamorphosis is leading into will no longer be seeking permission to have my experience, whatever that experience is.  I’m not there yet. So, hearing that idea was like a big deep breath, my shoulders lowered- “Oh, this is the work I need to be doing right now. It is okay and normal to have stuff to process even after my body heals physically.”

Edna embracing a tree in 1995.
Edna embracing a tree on the way down to the beach in 1995.

The summer Joe and I married we were visited by the very special grandparents of my heart, Edward & Edna, who were then in their 80’s. They in fact stood up with us as witnesses when we eloped with the justice of the peace at Shotgun Creek State Park.  While they were in Oregon we brought them to see some really big trees and the Pacific ocean. While walking on the beach near Florence, Edna and I were caught by a sneaker wave. I grabbed hold of her, and we clung to each other as we were soaked to the waist by the wave. Even though we saw it coming, there was no chance of getting out of the way.

The rock we were married on in 1995.
The rock we were married on in 1995, surrounded by dark water.

The grieving process is non linear. Recovery has its own timeline, which is different for everyone. The work of reconciling myself to a big change seems to comes in waves. Sometimes a sneaker wave comes way up on my beach, and I get wet.  I have experienced this when coming to terms with the deaths of loved ones, everything is going along in normal time-space when suddenly something will trigger a fierce longing, or sadness which will saturate the moment.  I had the mistaken impression that this whole cancering trip would be different. I thought that by looking directly at my situation as I went along that there would be no fall out.  I am learning that being as conscious as possible does not elliminate suffering, though I do think it may lesson it.

“Immediate are the acts of God, more swift than time or motion.”
― John Milton, Paradise Lost

Reality is changed in an instant with a thought. It is both the simplest and the hardest thing.  When beset by strong emotion it seems impossible. This week looking at our calendar I realize that I have lost the last month- the death of a friend, illness of the boys- the fog of my last Herceptin infusion. It is no wonder that I have been engulfed with an ocean of anxiety.  The beauty and order to which we have slowly been rendering our family life has been much disrupted.  Returning to meditation this morning, after weeks of not practicing, was a relief. Connecting to that quiet center is my antidote to my racing hellish thoughts. Meditation helps me shift states in a way that no amount of stern self talking has ever accomplished.

“What is dark within me, illumine.”
― John Milton, Paradise Lost

This journey back to the realms of light, and joy is winding forward slowly.  I find myself seeking a thousand ways to be in the present moment, despite where others may find themselves.  There is always someone else in more pain, suffering more, with a worse lot. Hell is believing this invalidates wherever I may be. If I get a paper cut it bleeds just as much regardless of whether anyone has been slashed with a machete somewhere in the world. Just as there are no limitations on love there are no limitations on any emotion.  This does not mean I wish to wallow in my misfortune, only that I struggle to acknowledge my own suffering without minimizing it. This is the magic of meditation- to acknowledge without attachment- when I can do it, meditation neutralizes the dark powers of anxiety stirred up by my troubles.

On a sailing trip in 1995, just after our secret elopement. (Thank you Alice & Rusty!!!)
On a sailing trip in 1995, just after our secret elopement.
(Thank you Alice & Rusty!!!)

I am grateful to the experience of others who have walked this path ahead of me. May any light that I gain be a lantern in the dark for those who follow behind me. In the coming days when waves of intensity arise within me, I will try to breath deeply three times. I will do the work of connecting to all that is. I will imagine that the wave is the sparkly blue of the Caribbean washing away the darkness.

One Comment Add yours

  1. amy minato says:

    Iris Sweet Woman, May the coming Solstice bring you deep joy, or at least cast a sliver of light into your recent gloom. It sounds like it’s been, in the words of my eldest sister who recently experienced the near suicidal death of her 12 yr old grandson. “a ringer.”

    The following quote has been resonating with me lately: “Having loved enough and lost enough, I am no longer searching, just opening, no longer trying to make sense of pain, but being a soft and sturdy home in which real things can land. These are the irritations that rub to a pearl.
    —Mark Nepo

    Please know you are always welcome here. (the tiny house is finished!). We will be at the coast next week. Let me know if you would welcome a visit. I would like to hug you. Much love, Amy

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