By Bernice H. Hill
The first week with Ed in the hospital didn’t seem so bad – a time of innocence. Images of the following weeks play across my mind: the drip of the chemo, the night nurse taking a temperature, the fish tank in the waiting room, doctors clustered and non-committal. By the third week the descent journey had begun in earnest. How could any one person be so sick and still live – with nausea, bleeding, infections, kidney failure, and a stroke? There were times when even the intensive care staff didn’t know what more could be done.
One night when Ed was shaking with chills, I crawled into the hospital bed with him, just held him and wept. Later, at home, as I was going to bed, I said to myself “We are all souls on our own unique journey. I must let Ed go on his and trust my own.” At exactly midnight, I was awakened by a flash in my head. Turning on the lamp I saw that a tall water glass had shattered. There were a thousand points of light, glass crystal, scattered across the bed. At first I thought that Ed had died, but that was not the case. I now think that it was confirmation from “the other side” of the rightness of my resolve. At midnight, the darkest hour, here was the turning point – we must accept that old containers have to break.
After that night of crisis, Ed awoke with a beautiful smile and an amazing story of leaving his tired and worn body in a blue haze. At the doorway of the room, he talked with three “Presences.” In a totally non-judgmental way they asked him if he wanted to leave or stay. He said he would stay. Ed was released in November, three months after he had entered the hospital.
What do you do when death has walked so near? You cherish time. You gather your resources to taste this beautiful natural world. And so we did. I share with you two snapshots:
* Hiking down a sun-lit jungle path in Guatemala, we laughed at the chattering monkeys overhead.
* Then a day when, sitting naked as a pair of three-year-olds in the water of a deserted Hawaiian beach, we watched the sun move the shadows across the sand. Above us two beautiful, white birds with long, graceful tails balanced in the wind in perfect synchrony.
Quietly, Ed said, “When I am gone, remember this moment.”
Ed’s remission lasted eighteen months. With his natural interest in research he worked with people exploring ways to enhance the immune system, and he counseled many others with cancer. At home, he bore his illness with great patience and acceptance. By the end of the next summer, it was clear that he was becoming ill again.
A week before Ed died, I came into the kitchen to find him in tears. He had just hung up the phone after talking with a friend, and his heart was very full.
He said, “I know it’s crazy, but I’m very grateful for this illness for it has shown me what love truly is.”
Over the course of Ed’s illness, he gradually loosened his grip on his intellectual pursuits and, cherishing life, opened his heart to others. Everyone felt it and responded. It is clear that the manner of one’s dying can set a tone of gracefulness that resounds back across one’s life. It is as if the whole story awaits the chapter of completion.
Then, when I was 79, I was shocked by the diagnosis: I had invasive breast cancer. I could no longer pretend that I was aging gracefully. Suddenly I was no longer immortal. The time had come to face the profoundly mysterious and threatening future, a threshold faced by all of us. My approach was typical for me – I wanted an overview. Not so much of the progress of breast cancer but of the more important wake-up call of having to face my own death. I decided to gather everything I could find on the subject: the full range of ideas, theories, philosophical approaches, personal stories, and courageous anecdotes. *
What I found is that death is one step in a highly ordered, ongoing process where we learn about ourselves with a background tapestry of the light and the dark. It is a subjective journey through many subtle levels and realms. There are places where one can get stuck and haunted by shadows, but there are guides and teachers.
I learned that our level of spiritual maturity is a basic issue and that we need to develop a relationship with our inner, eternal Essence while still in the physical body. Reflection and meditation can help us connect, before death, to the profound field of awareness that underlies and supports our consciousness.
There is a path to our evolution. It is marked by certain major transitions. Death is just one of those; there are others. The key appears to be in the wisdom and the willingness to let go when the time to do so has come.
Now in my 85th year, the words of a song that I learned from a friend comfort me, “In the flame of the Divine, I lay my burden down…and cut loose the bounds of time….”
* * * *
Ed Wilson, M.D. died on November 14, 1993.
Bernice H. Hill, PhD, is a Jungian analyst who lives in Boulder, Colorado.
* Her book, SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVES ON DEATH AND DYING, published by Luminous Moon Press, Boulder, Colorado, 2015, is about what she discovered.