April 17, 2014

How Cancer Resurrected My Soul.

Between Life and Death

Our bodies age and eventually we die.

That’s the thing about life: none of us get out alive.

So if the end is near, and none of us really know how near that is, then let’s permit our soul soar for the fleeting time we breathe with it.

Last year my sister-in-law, who I’d never been close with after twenty years as extended family, was battling cancer. This year it’s my brother-in-law, with over forty years in our family.

My family is close. Not just huggy-lovey-dovey close, but also they—my sister and her husband and my brother and his wife and a foster kid and two dogs and two cats—all live together.

After ridding most of my possessions, I now live like a gypsy, which has given me the luxury of freedom. Last summer, the freedom I chose was to stay close to my family while my sister-in-law went through rounds of chemo, radiation, surgery and a whole host of holistic elixirs.

My sister-in-law and I talked often enough, lovingly even, but I felt a tangible tension treading below the surface. The reasons matter little, as every family has its baggage. But at least we were communicating—connecting even if it felt foreign, if not forced.

And even though the flutter of a butterfly wing tickled at my clamped heart, the strain of our history tormented me. I felt that under the circumstances—disease—it was wrong of me to feel anything less than fully enlightened love for anyone – especially family, and more so especially family with cancer.

I ignored my vulnerability, instead chastising my lack of spirituality and that underlying off vibe within me.

I was staying with my mom–who I have been apron-strings attached to for far too long–which offered me another buffet of emotions I didn’t realize I hadn’t dealt with, the top being getting unstrung from that apron.

A culmination of family karma, dharma and drama whipped up a whirlwind inside me. Me: a person always very much in control, but losing my grip quickly.

I tried all the obvious solutions–exercise, breathing, meditation, nature, music (or rather self-hypnosis with an acoustic background), but the one thing I couldn’t relinquish was my need for control and constancy, and the comfort within them.

Then the day came for a social gathering of friends and family in my sister-in-law’s honour. At this point, things weren’t looking good for her, health-wise. The evening would be a celebration of her life. Not admitting defeat, but acknowledging the value of her presence in this world, much deserved, she’s touched many with her kind and generous heart.

I don’t know what the hell happened to me, but that day my wall came down and I couldn’t get up. I stayed in bed crying uncontrollably. I felt a veritable smorgasbord of emotions, all deep-seeded and overwhelmingly heart-rending, and I didn’t know why. There was no way I could attend the event.

I called my sister-in-law to tell her I wasn’t feeling well but could hardly get the words out. I was so stuffed up from sobbing she didn’t recognize my voice.

“Who is this?” She said.

“Adda.” I sniffed.


A-dd-a.” I tried to sound it out, slower but still hoarse.

She finally figured it out, and asked if I was okay, which was obvious I wasn’t. I couldn’t choke out much more.

“Do you want me to come over?” She asked.

“No. I’m okay.” I lied.

“There’s something I want to give you. Maybe I’ll come tomorrow, okay?” She asked me gently with concern.

“Okay.” I acquiesced, hoping by tomorrow I’d be able to gather myself into something more than an incoherent blob.

She showed up ten minutes later. I was still in bed, eyes swollen almost shut. I haven’t cried like that in years and I’m certainly not one prone to dramatic shows of vulnerable fragility. Certainly, she’d never seen me sad at all. But there I was a crumpled pile, raw and emotionally exposed.

She asked me what was wrong. It took several attempts to formulate the words. I didn’t even know what I was trying to say, but finally I got it out.

“I don’t want you to die!” I said and collapsed in a blubbering heap again.

“Oh, Anna.”

She hugged me and I melted into her, a small sobbing child.

I finally spoke in chopped up words between gasps, “I just finally let myself love you. I don’t want you to die.”

With true irony, she comforted me with her strength and her determination. “I’m not going to die. There’s too much for me to do here in the world now.”

But more than her words could ever say, it was the love shining back to me from the soul of her heart, and seeing that she finally knew I really did love her, and always will.

Now, I think back to that stupid cancer and say thank you. Sometimes, it takes facing losing someone to recover our own soul.


I wasn’t able to write this last year. It was too much for me at the time.

My sister-in-law is alive and well, and loved. As am I.

Even in its constant and seemingly chaotic change, every moment is perfect.

We are all interconnected energy. Spirit resides in each of us, and energy never dies. Death is part of the overall order of things. When one body passes to become the dust of the earth, there is no need for resurrection because their soul becomes part of the remains of the day.

I don’t know how my brother-in-law will fair, but we will be alright.


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Editor: Renee Picard

Photo: Katmary at Flickr 

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