What happens when we take our last breath? Where does our spirit "go" when we die? Do we stay and watch over our loved ones? Are we rewarded or punished based on our actions in life? Do we simply get stuck in a box in the ground and turn into an inanimate object? And what is the purpose of all our deeds, good and bad, anyway?
The list of questions on the purpose of life and death and dying go on and on. It is a subject, after years of fighting cancer, that I have finally become able to discuss.
Truth be told, with a life threatening diagnosis, little is spoken about the connection between faith, the after-life, and dying. It is almost taboo. It is a subject too hard for most to breach since it requires a huge amount of acceptance of the life cycle to talk about faith in terms of your own death, but to truly integrate faith and living into life this subject needs to not only be explored, but embraced, as the co-existing entity it is, recognizing that both here and the afterlife may co-exist in a way humanity is not yet capable of understanding.
But suddenly, immediately upon diagnosis, life and death was always on my mind, popping up at any giving moment: when I was at the movies with my family watching previews and wondering if I'd survive to see that movie that looked so good or making vacation plans with friends then realizing I may not be present.
My life long catholic upbringing gave me the comfort of believing I had lived and good life and would be rewarded, but that didn't help my cope.
I couldn't even eek out the words, "I have cancer" without my eyes welling with tears, my throat tightening and my voice becoming inaudible from my distress. I didn't want to die, and my whole body started to fight when I was threatened with even having to talk about it.
Even with many religious supporters and hospice personnel who were more than capable of comforting me making end-of-life arrangements, which need to be made healthy or not, such as finalizing a will, assigning a durable power-of-attorney, and possibly itemizing a living will, was almost unbearable.
I started to cope alongside these actions, not coping would only force me to remain in the anxiety riddled space of confusion. First, I dealt in my head along with my higher power. It wasn't always with a religious text. It wasn't always in prayer. Often it was in discussion and put forth in my actions.
When I was put on the brink of death, I was comfortable that some of my families' arrangements would be cared for, but I was also comfortable calling a priest or pasture to receive the sacraments I wanted so badly that coincide with my religion.
I wanted to confess, this way my soul would be pure from any wrong doing. I wanted to receive communion, accepting the Holy Ghost into me, if possible, and the sacrament of the sick, a blessing for the ill.
I know I will always receive these graces when facing death. My faith tells me I will, but on so many times after calling my loved ones, preparing myself, and receiving the blessing of the sacrament of the sick, I recovered!
I have recovered according to plan, I have recovered against huge odds, and I have recovered miraculously by the Grace of God after my family being told I would not survive the night.
How does it feel to be in a coma on the brink of death?
I've only had one person ask, but I've always wondered. I suspect many of you do too.
In a coma time stops, very similar to anesthesia. There is no comprehension of day or night, minute or hour.
During my experience, I was completely comfortable. I was more comfortable than I had been for the entire year previously. I cried when I woke up and realized I was feeling again. I cried knowing I was alive and the pain was back.
At the time, I didn't understand if I had a spiritual experience or not. I didn't do any hovering over the bed, watching my caretakers scurry around, but I didn't actually "die" either.
I was in darkness. The darkness felt similar to starting to wake from a deep sleep when you're on the unconscious edge of consciousness where you can either forget or remember the events but they may not make sense.
Knowing I was in "darkness" scared and confused me, but I did see a light at one point in the darkness far off in the distance. There were people around the light or spirits around an amazing fire. I don't know how to describe it. I knew what it was but was too far to tell details.
Waking up I deciphered this as a message saying my death was far off in the future.
Of course, I ignored this idea.
I shouldn't have. This experience happened four full years ago. In my opinion, four full years is a decent amount of time.
I was before this, was then, and am now a believer in miracles and have faith in the works of a higher power that determines my fate in respect to the bigger picture of the universe, whether it be to heal me, help me, or allow me to pass on.
I have always been interested in people who can heal by their thoughts or laying their hands upon someone.
When I was a child, I used to try to heal people by placing my hands on them without them knowing, but always it was in the back of my head that healing others comes with a price, a sacrifice, and that sacrifice would be my own health.
The laying on of hands is one of the most basic and fundamental doctrines of healing, seen all the way back to Hebrews 6:1, 2, in certain faiths.
First, the laying on of hands was viewed as imparating spiritual blessings, graces, or healings, unto others or receiving it unto yourself through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
This view hasn't changed much through out the millenia, and it is still practiced with a mix of faith, mysticism and evidence today.
I stopped trying to heal people with my hands alone in junior high when I started reading about other alternative medicines, but you could say my love of giving health started early with the hope I could cure by miracles.
Now, I'm even more fascinated by religious, miraculous healings and healers. I've wanted to be the recipient of on of these acts for many years now, but never had the right opportunity.
Yesterday I did.
What I imagined: a southern style, evangelical mega-church with a huge alter and podium with a mega-microphone blaring religious songs over a monotone, rhythmic prayer as an auditorium filled audience of hopers and believers watched on either kneeling in prayer or standing in song was not anything like the reality.
For the healer I pictured what I'd seen on TV: a "healthy," middle aged Priest dressed in a plain clothes gray suit, button up shirt, no tie with possibly a cow boy hat looking more like a Preacher than the Priests in Robes I'm familiar with.
I saw in my head just the two of us on this massive alter, him walking up to me with the confidence and cockiness of a cowboy, him raising his hands, placing them firmly on my forehead, giving me a little push, and me swooning to the ground being caught by my companions.
This is what's shown on TV.
In reality, everyone is welcomed to be healed as even the smallest stressor is an ailment that should be placed at the feet of God for relief, and everyone was asked to come to be healed. We lined up in two rows in a standard, small Roman Catholic church, looking just like every other church I had ever attended with uncomfortable wooden pews and beautiful colored glass windows allowing the light to shine through in tiny rainbows.
The Priest were in their standard vestments, a long black robe. Three or four of them lined up beside each other moving side by side in front of the line of people to be healed with another man behind the line, holding his hands up to assist in the healing. The first and the second Priest in front had the option of supporting the individual or holding up their hands in healing support, the first Priest held an oil, which the middle Priest used to Bless each person on the forehead.
When he came to me I looked him in the eye and smiled quickly, automatically, then stopped just as quickly. He did the same as we held each other's stare. He dipped his hand in the oil and whispered something.
He moved on just as quickly as he came. It was all pretty anti-climactic for something I'd been wanting and imagined for years. We snuck out the side as he continued down the rows of parishioners.
Imagine my surprise when I was told by one of the regular church goers at this particular Parish that healing masses are done once a month!
Once a month! I could be going to get healed once a month.
This day, My experience, was a special occasion only because a Priest from a different area, somewhere surrounding Boston, who had done healings in the past, came to the church.
So, the million dollar question, did it work? Do healings work immediately?
It didn't work immediately. I went out that evening and experienced the same fatigue I normally do.
I woke up just like most other days. I reached for my morphine before getting out of bed. I was on my second instant dose before I could get my other daily medications into me.
But I quickly noticed something was different.
I wasn't hungry, starving to the point I couldn't function from the steroids. I wasn't feeling nausea. I didn't need my ativan before or after eating either. Now that I think about it, I haven't taken it all day.
I wanted my coffee, and I had it without any stomach upset. I've eaten all day without keeling over.
Then, as if normal, I had the energy to clean out my closet, something I have been wanting to do for years but haven't been able.
Literally, I have a dress I wore to a wedding last May that has been in a heap on the bottom of my closet that I've been eyeing, wanting to hang up, but never had the energy. The sizes of clothing ranged from 14/16 girls to 16 womens.
I cleaned out everything that didn't fit!
I also weeded out Xander's clothing to pass on to his cousin.
Then I had the energy to shower and dress, cut coupons, and go grocery shopping.
Usually, that organizing for an hour, would have me sleeping and aching for the rest of the day!
I'll leave you to answer whether the healing truly worked or not, but if only for one day, I've felt healthy.