After my seizure experience I am attempting to pick up the pieces and reconcile my two very different experiences of near death.
If someone hears about a brain tumor most people would think it’s the end. A seizure, on the other hand, happens fairly often. But for me, it’s the seizure experience that has me seeking out ways to cope with the trauma.
My brain tumor experience was full of messy emotions, mystical experiences, and saying goodbye to everyone. It was long and drawn out. I waited five days in a hospital room for the surgery. I had Paige by my side nearly every minute. My parents were there, I had visitors from church who brought flowers, and we had family drop everything to take care of our kids for what ended up being my nine day hospital stay. I really felt like I left everything there. I was full of gratitude and awe looking back at my life and what I had experienced. There was no bitterness, no regret, no desperation for anything more. Before being wheeled off to the operating room, I was held by my wife and my parents, and I told them where they could find me if I left my body. It was sweet, serene, and peaceful.
The seizure experience was the exact opposite end of the spectrum. There was no build up. There was no time to contemplate. It was a futile struggle of myself against my own body, failing to cooperate but knowing that something was very wrong with my brain. I flailed at a window in front of Paige and my children, asking for help, and then fell into a bush and went to black.
It was an abrupt fall into darkness.
I have an experience of death full of beauty and meaning. And I have an experience of death filled with failure and absurdity.
I am left with the unfortunate effects of that latter experience. I am dealing with fixations and obsessions. I am questioning if my body will fail me again– what I can and can’t do.
I think the control I lost in the seizure takes form in these unhealthy fixations and obsessions– specifically targeted around the mismanaged COVID pandemic I find my family in, and people willing to enable a system that rewards a narcissistic cult leader who cares more about attention and loyalty than serving the public.
These topics don’t just ignite strong feelings– no, they are running away with my composure. And I can see it happening– and it breaks my own heart to see myself fall victim to these traps. I am snapping at family, I’m short with the kids, I can’t sleep, I don’t want to laugh. It’s miserable.
This is how the trauma manifests. I’m just one person. Can you imagine how many other people are dealing with things like these?
I know the path I need to take. I know how to get better. It’s still not easy, and it’s still going to take a lot of time. I have broken down the healing process into mental (meditation), physical (exercise, tai chi), and social (therapy). I think with these pillars I can rebuild myself. Again.
I still think back to falling into the bush and going dark. And that happens everyday to people in car accidents, soldiers serving their countries, and freak occurrences. Will that really be it? I remembered reading something about the beauty and fragility of life in Richard Rohr’s book The Universal Christ. I sat down and found the passage I was looking for.
“Creation- be it planets, plants, or pandas– was not just a warm-up act for the human story or the Bible. The natural world is its own good and sufficient story, if we can only learn to see it with humility and love. That takes contemplative practice, stopping our busy and superficial minds long enough to see the beauty, allow the truth, and protect the inherent goodness of what it is– whether it profits me, pleases me or not.Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ
Every gift of food and water, every act of simple kindness, every ray of sunshine, every mammal caring for her young, all of it emerged from this original and intrinsically good creation. Humans were meant to know and enjoy this ever-present reality…All the other sentient beings also do their little things, take their places in the cycle of life and death, mirroring the eternal self-emptying and eternal infilling of God, and somehow trusting it all– as did my dog Venus when she gazed at me, then looked straight ahead and humbly lowered her nose to the ground as we put her to sleep. Animals fear attack, of course, but they do not suffer the fear of death. Whereas many have said that the fear and avoidance of death is the one absolute in every human life.
If we can recognize that we belong to such a rhythm and ecosystem, and intentionally rejoice in it, we can begin to find our place in the universe. We will begin to see, as did Elizabeth Barrett Browning, that Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God.”
And there it was. A line of poetry within a book passage aimed right at me.
Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God.Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh
This gives me solace, but I’m not at peace yet. You can know something, but not yet feel it– and that’s where I am. The work is in the practice, and that’s an everyday necessity.
And so I have to recognize that this possible death– whenever it will be, while it may appear abrupt and absurd, is part of this beautiful Divine Mystery. I may leave my body. People will be sad and there will be work left undone. But it will still be part of the Divine Dance.
While it’s taking time for it to sink into my soul, I now know that any day is a good day to die.