By Catherine Hammond, Esq.
On a Monday evening in August I’d just walked in the door from a California training when I heard my fiance, Brian, start to vomit. A minute later he began whimpering, and by the time I reached the bathroom he was on the floor, screaming. Over the next five hours the firefighters and paramedics were replaced with ER nurses and doctors, then surgeons. As he continued vomiting blood and the time in the ER dragged on, Brian’s screaming provided the soundtrack for an evening I had expected to look differently.
By 2:30 am they had removed a 19cm tumor from his abdomen, the cause of the perforation in his small intestine. It was cancer.
That same week my dear friend who has been journeying with leukemia for more than four years, praying she’d live long enough for at least her middle child to graduate high school, was told that her cancer is back, in her spine, and she entered hospice. Two days ago she departed her earthly body.
I’ve been filled with gratitude and joy over these last six weeks since Brian survived the intestinal burst and surgery, as people near and far have showered us in love. At the same time there’s been a thread of sorrow through my days. A loss of some aspects of the life I’ve shared with Brian and our hopes for the future, a loss of the innocence of never having had cancer. Now the loss of my dear friend and the vitality she brought to this world and my life.
I’ve grieved for what is to come, as I face the jarring and visceral remembrance that at some point I will say goodbye to every single person I love.
“Where there is sorrow there is holy ground.” ~Oscar Wilde
As I’ve moved through these losses I have literally and figuratively dug my hands into the earth, felt and tasted the sorrow. Thrown my hands in the air and cried out from the depths of my soul. This grief touches all of the other losses I’ve ever experienced. And what has surprised me the most is how it has made me feel closer to family and friends and even strangers.
Sorrow is our universal connection, our primary universal experience. To be human is to know loss in countless ways.
In sorrow I remember that we are not separate, we are interdependent. Sorrow binds us all together, as the gaze of one who is brought to her knees is met by another who nods, hand outstretched to dry her tears, inspirited by the land of sorrow he entered not so long ago.
I am practicing grief. Welcoming the pain of losing both more of my innocence and my precious friend. I am dancing the dance of a life well-lived and cut short, of fear and sadness and presence and hope, the dance that connects every one of us. Each of us is invited into sorrow at some point in our lives. Once we’re invited to this sacred land it resides in our bones, becomes part of who we are and how we live. Let’s take off our shoes and walk this holy ground together.