In the fall of 2016, my life changed forever. That’s when my favorite college professor, whose children I had babysat and whose family I’d visited for years after graduating, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Cancer. The word itself felt different now that it was slowly strangling someone I loved like an uncle. His wife told me that the doctors didn’t recommend chemo: he was so riddled with tumors, his best option was to end his life comfortably.
I immediately booked a flight to New York so I could sit with him, even for a moment, before I’d never be able to sit with him again. And when I did, and he looked at me through gaunt and dying eyes, and we connected heart to heart without saying a word, that’s when my life changed. It was like being electrocuted, but in a GOOD way! It wasn’t my first experience with death, of course, but it was my first experience being hit by lightning, so to speak. I was simultaneously flooded with despair for the sheer unfairness of my friend’s impending death AND with joy at the discovery that souls can connect to each other… indeed, are never truly separate… in a matter of milliseconds. As I held his hand, smiling like a drunkard, weeping like a willow and staying deeply locked in profound eye contact, I knew that nothing I could learn, nothing anyone else could try to convince me, would ever be more important than THIS.
Since that day, I have chosen my thoughts (yes, my thoughts) words, and actions with careful reflection on whether or not they are in keeping with what I learned as my professor friend lay dying. I knew then that my job on earth was more important than my profession, so I explored ways in which I could honor the unquestionable truth of human connection with however many breaths I myself had left. When a Heart ‘n Home car drove past me one day, my own heart sang. I knew immediately that volunteering for hospice was going to be an important part of my life’s journey. And so it has been!
Death is a difficult, uncomfortable, sometimes tragic necessity that allows life to be possible at all. Spending some of my remaining living hours sitting quietly with those closer to death than most of the rest of us (though truly… who really knows?) has been one of the most rewarding and enlightening experiences I’ve ever had. And in one way, it’s all thanks to my favorite professor and his lightning lesson. So thanks, Marshall! I miss you, and thank you.