Watching someone slowly die before your eyes is one of the most painful things to witness. My husband Gary passed on June 1, 2018 after a long battle with cancer. He didn’t have much time to “age gracefully,” in fact the cancer made sure it wasn’t graceful at all. At least, not physically. In the short time that was left, he showed me how to “age gratefully”, and when you can age gratefully, regardless of what your body shows you, what life shows you, or what your experiences show you, that is how you “age gracefully”!
Here are key lessons that I learned watching Gary age prematurely and die at the young age of 62:
When he was diagnosed with throat cancer:
He did not wallow in pity or victimhood. Because of his 30+ years on his spiritual journey, he knew he was responsible for his body’s illness. Instead, he looked within and determined what emotions caused his illness. He blessed and thanked the cancer for bringing this to his attention so that he could continue to evolve his thinking and being. He was a way-shower for me about the power of expression, and what the consequences are when we choose not to express our voice out of fear or unworthiness.
He opted for non-traditional therapy that was still somewhat based on traditional methods. He understood that because of the severity of the cancer, he had to have one foot firmly planted in the modern medical world, while the other foot was anchored in the spiritual world. Even though he believed he had the power within to heal himself, he knew the best outcome for his highest good would require both worlds. And while the end result wasn’t the healing he had hoped for, he was gifted with a little more time to learn what he needed to learn.
When it became clear that he was not going to live much longer:
He made the best of each day he had. He could have left it to me to handle all his feedings and medications, but he was independent to the end. He even created a contraption out of wood and heavy wire that would hold the feeding tube hands free, so that he could feed himself. Just that little bit of independence allowed him to feel in control of his illness.
He wanted to serve his body as best he could because he was so grateful for the service his body had provided him throughout his life. In retrospect, he was consciously loving and honoring his body through the illness in a truly compassionate way.
He prepared cards and gifts for friends he was unable to see. His last act of love for me was having his brother send a card with an owl (my totem) for our anniversary that came a few months later. Rather than write the message for him, his brother included Gary’s handwritten note. Such a graceful exit.
Two days before he passed:
He awoke full of energy after having been unconscious for a few days. He tried to stand up and immediately fell as his legs could no longer support his emaciated body. He sustained some minor scratches and bruises, and when we got him back in his chair, he began speaking with the voice of a young teenage boy.
His first question was: “Is the tumor gone?” And when I looked and said no, he matter-of-factly continued talking like it was no big deal.
I realized the power of the spirit when he stayed conscious in this younger version of himself, full of energy for the next 26 hours straight. He showed no signs of pain where the cancer was and fully moved that part of his body like it was completely healed.
He was constantly doing a ritual that looked like he was tying and untying things and stretching this “string” away from his body while looking at it with one eye, like he was assessing how best to apply it to whatever he was attaching it to. Then he performed another ritual with me and then his brother, where he had me put my hands together, like in prayer with the fingers pointing towards him, and then he tied these strings around my hands. As I questioned him about why he was doing this, I finally coaxed out of him that he was connecting us so that we would always be together.
I truly felt that these 26 hours were a gift from his spirit, just for us. It was so amazing to be speaking to him in this way. A reminder of his youthful and energetic spirit and a comforting way of showing us that he IS spirit and will always be with us. He wanted us to know that he was okay, that his body was simply a garment he used for this lifetime and did not define his true spiritual nature.
What I’ve learned through this experience:
Life is filled with endless opportunities to learn and grow. Many of these opportunities come from the challenges, tragedies, and breakdowns that we experience throughout our lives. There are so many things to be grateful for, even in the face of devastating loss.
When we ask ourselves, “What is this loss teaching me,” we make a divine choice to see the bigger picture. We open our hearts to understanding and acceptance. In opening our hearts in this way, we affirm our self-love and then we can light the way for others.
Have you ever gazed upon an elderly person who is so full of love and kindness and think to yourself, I hope I can age as gracefully? Some of us will have a shorter time on this planet and won’t have the luxury of physically aging gracefully. Yet we can still age gratefully by enjoying every day and expressing love, gratitude, and kindness. And when we can do that, no matter our exit date, we age gracefully!