Saturday, August 15, 2009

Death is a Form of Healing

In previous posts, I have written about a family member who was seriously ill. That family member was my fiance's 21-year old daughther, Helen, who sadly lost her battle with leukemia on Friday, June 26, at 1:51 p.m. This was the latest, and saddest, of many deaths -- human and animal -- that have occurred within my circle this year. 2009 has somehow turned into the year of death. I will say, though, that this year has forever changed the way that I think about death.

My personal view of the universe is that death is inevitable for all that lives, and that everything that dies comes back around again in another form, so paradoxically souls don't ever really die, they just continually evolve. That's been my belief for a while, and that belief remains not only intact but also stronger than ever in light of recent events. When viewed through this lens, death is less scary and tragic than most people tend to see it, although it doesn't necessarily make things less painful when it's someone you love, or ultimately yourself, who's doing the dying. The things that I recently added to my view of death are these: that death is a form a healing, and that to be with someone when they die is one of life's highest honors and holds its own kind of beauty.

Right before Helen's leukemia returned and the doctors said there was no hope, she had been through a lengthy and life-threatening lung illness. She was hooked to a ventilator through a trach tube, and she weighed all of about 70 pounds. As a Iwatched her fight her lung troubles, I remember thinking, "I want to her to find peace, in whatever form that may take." Maybe because I equate peace with health, it occurred to me that death could be viewed as a form of healing. When no other means of healing proves up to the challenge, death provides body and soul with much-sought relief. Moreover, death is just one step on our soul's journey to find ultimate peace, so it can be viewed as healing in a cosmic, as well as an immediate, sense.

We found out on Monday, June 22, that Helen's leukemia had returned, and that peace to her would, indeed, come through death, likely within a matter of days, or at most weeks. This was a hard punch to the gut, because the previous month the doctors said that the stem cell transplant had worked and that almost all her bone marrow was the donor's, plus she was finally out of the woods on the lung ailment. Helen was alert and fully appreciated her situation, and although she could not talk because of her trach tube she could write, mouth words, and use sign language. We all had time with her that last week to say what needed to be said. Although it was difficult to watch one so young and so brave face her mortality, that last week with Helen was precious, sacred time.

Helen deteriorated rapidly after being moved from Johns Hopkins to the ICU of a hospital in her home town, according to her wish to die as close to home as possible (home care and even hospice care were out of the question due to the graveness of her condition). When the palliative care team suggested that the time to disconnect the ventilator had come on Friday morning, the whole family let Helen go willingly and lovingly, and we were all there with her when her soul finally passed away. Even through the grief and tears, it was a beautiful, powerful moment -- by far the most sacred moment I have yet experienced. I was incredibly honored to know Helen in life (and will write about how wonderful she was in a later post), and I was equally honored to be present when she departed this life.

I will say, as a final observation, that of everyone affected by Helen's death, she was the strongest and the most serene during that last week. By miles. I hope that for her death really was a form of healing, and that wherever she is now she has peace.

Photograph of Adrianne and Jacob at Congressional Cemetery, by Stewart Harris


Merle Sneed said...

My condolences and my best to you and yours.

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

I did feel at peace reading this. To think of death as a form of healing, yes, I like that.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

This is a beautiful tribute to your loved one. My condoleances.

Your post is also a very considered viewpoint on death and how it can be a healing of sorts. It is a completion, a release, a movement into peace, and, as you say, a healing. Your fiance is fortunate to have someone like you who sees beyond the tragedy to what is sacred about the loss.


Reya Mellicker said...

Life at all costs means terrible suffering. I'm so sad Helen died, but I honor the wisdom of the family, and their compassion, in letting her go.

Her wake was a true revelation to me. I had no idea it would or could be so life-positive.

One final toast to Helen. Bravo!!

That pic of you and Jacob is BEAUTIFUL.

karen said...

So sorry to hear the story of Helen, and it must have been a terrible time for you all, especially that moment of letting go. But as you say, peace came for her. Warm thoughts from Africa..

Steve said...

I think you're seeing this event in a beautiful and healthy way. Death really is just the ultimate condition of all our lives, and there comes a point when trading life for death IS healing.

Aileen said...

I am so sorry- I can only imagine how painful this experience has been for you.

I truly admire your strength and courage with how you are facing it.

Val said...

Dear Adrianne - lovely to see you back in the blogosphere. Am sure you have had a busy year, and I am sorry for all the sadness; but you are right - death is a part of life and there is healing for all often in the occasion of it. It is a huge honour to be with someone at that time - so great that you could all be with Helen after all you have ALL been through xxx

Barry said...

A brilliant and very moving post, Adrianne. I have also experienced death as a healing experience.

However, I'm sorry to hear there have been so many losses in your life this year.

Angela said...

I am so glad to have you and your wisdom back in blogland, Adrianne, but it is a sad first post. I have never been close when someone died, but I visited my mother two days before she passed away. She was so peaceful then. I do hope and wish that your thoughts on us all just passing on are true. And how can it be otherwise, really?

dcpeg said...

Such a heart-warming take on death. Thanks for sharing it.

Along with my sibs and Mom, I was with my Dad when he died in November 2007. As painful as it was losing, it was reassuring to realize that his spirit had escaped his sick body. Holding his hand, I almost felt the moment when his soul left his body. As you experienced, it was a truly spiritual moment!

I hope the experience continues to comfort you and all those who loved Helen.

Cyndy said...

After having lost two dear friends to cancer in less than a year, and a beloved teacher just this week, I've begun to realize that I also believe in some sort of eternity. Although they are physically gone, and I miss them very much I can still feel them near me.

It sounds very much like your Helen will always also be there in one way or another for all of her loved ones. Your post was a beautiful, loving, and moving tribute to her, and was also quite comforting to me as well. Thank you for so beautifully putting your thoughts and feelings into words.

e said...

My condolences, Adrianne and thanks for sharing such a heartwarming and poignant post.

Siobhán said...

My sympathies Adrianne.
Helen is surely at peace now.

Beautifully written and nice to see you back.

Jeff said...

You are a fantastic writer of the feelings deep inside us. Thank you for such a lovely and moving tribute to Helen. And for being there when I and the boys needed you most. I love you. Jeff

Rebekah. said...

Hi Adrianne. I hope this finds you well. Belated condolences to you and yours in the passing of Helen. Today is Julie's birthday, so I thought I'd stop by and see what's new at The Bodhi Tree. Your words continue to enlighten and inspire. Thanks and all best!

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