June 20, 2021
Patricia M.DeMarco, Ph.D.
Facing a life-threatening illness forces focus on what is truly important. Every person faces such crisis-induced inflection points differently. As I have coped with four different challenges to my health over a span of twenty years, I have made decisions to live each day to the fullest, with purpose and intention. One day at a time, I rejoice in the wonder and beauty demonstrated everywhere through the gifts of the living Earth. I seek ways to use my voice and my personal power to move the world around me to a more sustainable and resilient place through local political action as an elected official, through regional collaborations with like-minded colleagues, and through writing and focused contributions to national and international efforts. But all of this fades away in the face of a truly life-threatening reality. When the diagnosis comes to a person close to my heart, the precious fragility of our existence surfaces.
When the days ahead are numbered to a few hundred at best, it is the relationships, the personal connections with a caring community of family and friends, that make the difference. All of the time spent on causes and external concerns disappears in significance compared to spending an hour in lucid conversation with a dear loved one. Memories of shared joys lift the pall of pain and fear. Simple pleasures enhance the sense of being connected and not alone in the darkest of times. Just holding hands and smiling through internal tears and broken-hearted grief gives comfort.
Interface with the institutionalized medical system makes personal connections absolutely essential. When you become a patient, with a chart and a Care Team, personal connections become critical. Who is the person who can understand the jargon and translate information into meaningful communication? Who can see through the doctor’s shield that comes down over demeanor when the diagnosis is a condition without cure, just a “management plan”? In this situation, it is the inner strength of each person that sustains life with dignity and quality as long as possible.
The ability to connect with the healing power of the living Earth makes an enormous difference in the experience of coping with a critical illness. Whether the condition will abate sufficiently to allow many years of living, or whether the condition is so acute that there are few options for prolonged life, living each day becomes either a gift or a burden, depending on the attitude and mental and spiritual support system of each person. I remember my grandfather Pop in his late years when he was living with my parents. His Parkinson’s disease had advanced too far for him to live alone, and he resented his loss of independence. He would sit on the bench in the patio under the pear tree and talk to my Nona who had died years before. He would say “Well, Pasqualine, the Lord forgot me again today. I am still here, and you are with Him. How long must I wait to be free of this world?” And yet, when I came to visit with my two small children, his great-grandchildren, he would smile and sing them the same little songs he sang to me as a child. He would give them a ride on his foot, holding their little hands and bouncing them up and down. For those moments, he was alive and sharing experiences with another generation. They have not forgotten him, and the memories have crossed through generations.
We all live but a moment in the stream of time. It is our privilege and our duty to make the most of our time on this Earth. We cannot know how many hours we have to spend, but we can commit to celebrate every opportunity for joy. We can weave ourselves into the tapestry of our time and immerse ourselves into the life-giving force of the living Earth. We can stand in defiance of the sadness, pain and evil that rises around us. We can be a beacon for those who follow, triumphant in living in harmony with Nature.