Life,death...and the Miracles of Living.....
I met my children’s’ father, “Bob”, in 1984 when I was 15. We were a bi-racial couple in a small community during a time when inter-racial couples were NOT nearly as accepted as they are now. My mother was an abusive alcoholic, my stepfather beat us all and my father (of course) wasn’t around. “Bob” became my family. He was, in fact, my soul mate. We had two unbelievable children: a son, “Joey” and a daughter, “Gloria”. It didn’t matter that I was estranged from my family because “Bob” and I were building our own. On March 3, 1996, “Bob” died. Cancer. And, I was left to grieve and raise my two bi-racial children alone. This is just the beginning of a beautiful story of life and love, fear, pain and Truth.
We often hear people tell their stories and, sometimes think, “God! If I was ever in that position, I know I’d never be able to get through it!” One of “Bob”’s younger brothers (“Bud”) died of the same cancer about a year before “Bob” did. He lived in Arizona with his wife and two small children. He survived for six short months after his diagnosis and three of those months were spent in a coma. I remember being on the phone with his young wife, “Lisa”, listening to her talk about feeding tubes and not being able to communicate with her husband…about how she had to learn CPR, take care of her babies and go to work everyday, too. I remember thinking, “I’d never be able to do that.” But, several short months later, at twenty-eight small years old, I found myself holding a bucket for “Bob” while he vomited blood from his hospital bed and listening to the doctor ask him, ““Bob”, if your heart stops beating while you’re here, do you want me to go to the fullest measure to revive you?” Even now, looking back on those last moments when I spent so many hours just watching “Bob”’s chest to make sure it was moving up and down, I don’t know WHAT it was inside of me that made me able to stay at his bedside. All I wanted to do was go to sleep and pretend I had been living someone else’s life.
“Bob”’s death was a turning point for me; not just because I was losing the only real family I ever had but because it was a catalyst for so many miracles in my life. It forced me to open my eyes to things that I always knew but never really knew how to pay attention to. It was proof to me that there is more to what we are than just the lives we’re living here. I know that sounds cliché but, it’s the Truth! I’ve never been closer to any human being than I was to “Bob”. And, I remember sitting at his bedside at home, watching him sleep just days before his death and, every now and then, he’d abruptly awake, sit up and look around through wide and child-like eyes…just… looking. One time, I said, ““Bob”, what are you looking at?’ to which he replied by looking at me with so much passion and emotion and saying, “Every thing, “Abby”!” then went right back to sleep. I actually watched him linger between this world and the next. I mean, there was no denying that it was happening right in front of my face…even if I couldn’t understand it.
I grew up going to various different churches with my neighbors. I always loved God and cried at the age of thirteen; the first time I read the story of Jesus on my own. “Bob” was always a deeply spiritual and intuitive person and, even when he could barely walk for the cancer in his spine and brain, he drove to peoples’ houses to verbally claim the healing he knew God had promised him. On the day that he died, my eight-year-old son said to me, “Mommy, I held on SO tight to my faith! Why didn’t God heal my daddy?” My response to him was purely instinctual, “God did heal your daddy, sweetheart. We just didn’t get to keep him afterward.” But, even as those words came out of my mouth, I was asking myself the same question and what would become a huge “thorn” was effectively shoved into my gut…this one, nagging thought: “I know my baby’s faith was pure. It must be the perfect faith that Jesus referred to when he said, ‘With faith the size of a mustard seed…..’ so, why didn’t “Bob”’s healing come to pass in the way my son believed it would???”
Since “Bob” and his brother “Bud” both died of the same cancer (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) and the oncologists readily stated that there had been no findings to prove or disprove whether any type of cancer is genetic, we all pay close attention to our children…particularly, our sons. About two years after “Bob” died, during a routine exam, “Joey”’s pediatrician found a lump in his armpit (the same way “Bob” found out he had cancer) and a lump in his groin. I was petrified. I couldn’t sleep, eat, think. I was beside myself with the kind of terror that just freezes your insides. A friend of mine said to me while I waited for the results to “Joey”’s blood work, “You should just pray about it.” My response to his remark even caught me off-guard and would become the beginning of a long journey of enlightenment: “Why? Why should I pray? What should I pray for? For “Joey” not to have cancer? Like 80 million people didn’t pray for “Bob” and “Bud”! What, out of all those people, not one had ‘perfect faith?’ Not even my son? What would be the point in praying and begging God not to let “Joey” have cancer? I already know that there is divine purpose behind “Bob”’s illness and death, even if I hate it. It’s clear that there would be ‘divine purpose’ in my son being sick, too. So, what do I pray for?”
For nearly ten years, I honestly sent that question out into the universe. And, I believe it is for that reason (because I honestly asked the question) that the “universe” lovingly responded to me with an answer.
One time, while “Bob” was having this neon-green, almost glowing, toxic fluid drained into his veins (chemo), we sat in his hospital room together; me on the chair with my Bible and “Bob” on the bed with his book on “Taoism.” I was so ANGRY with him for being so insistent upon carrying that damn book with him everywhere! I mean, he even brought it to a Bible study at my church one time! Anyone who’s Christian “knows” that, “If it didn’t come from the Bible, it must have come from the Devil.” I was so afraid for his soul! Didn’t he know that he was dying and, if he didn’t put that damn devil book down, he’d go to hell? God! I just wanted to smack him upside the head for being so stubborn! We were debating this issue when he said to me (in reference to ALL the different religions): “Abby. We’re all climbing toward the same mountain peak. We’re just climbing up different sides of the mountain.” In response to this statement, I simply fell silent. It made so much sense. But, I was still afraid. At the time, I thought I was afraid that the devil had some kind of hold on “Bob” and was trying to take me down with him. But, now I know it’s because I was afraid of the Truth. Not because the Truth is anything to fear but because the power of Truth is….so….enormous.
I come from a long line of alcoholics and drug addicts. On top of that, throughout both my mother and father’s families, depression and bi-polar disorder run rampant. But, no one in the family ever had the courage or strength to deal with any of that stuff. No one ever told me I had a “mood disorder.” I didn’t know about depression (even though, by the time “Bob” died, I had already had several major bouts of it, including one really damaging one immediately following the birth of my second child, “Gloria”.) “Bob”’s death was a trigger for a HUGE bout of severe depression that I wasn’t sure I’d come back from. During this particular bout of depression, shortly after “Bob” died, I briefly considered taking my own life. But, I knew my babies needed me. (I’m all they’ve ever really had since their daddy died.) One time (I’m ashamed to admit,) I actually thought that a potential solution to leaving them behind was to take them with me. I hated myself for thinking that, even for a millisecond! (Which is about how long I considered it.) But I was severely depressed and was totally defenseless because I knew so little about clinical depression and the fact that it’s biological.
I sought treatment after having a huge emotional breakdown (about six month after “Bob” died.) They put me on anti-depressants (Paxil) and I trudged on in my undying quest for the Truth. I read books like “Conversations With God,” by Neale Donald Walsche and invited Jehovah’s witnesses to my house every week so I could grill them. They were my best buddies, at the time, because they let me throw some pretty tough questions at them…questions that I needed to hear myself ask. I watched movies, like “What Dreams May Come,” with Robin Williams and began to experience the essence of my own, personal power….the essence of this” perfect faith” that needs only be the size of a mustard seed.
I bought a house, remarried, lost the house, got divorced. I helped my children move through their lives and enter adolescence without their father. I went to college. I worked. We moved (like, a total of fifteen times in eighteen years!) I went off medication and back on again. I fell then lifted myself back up. Over and over. I evolved, spiritually and emotionally. I continued to encounter Truth all around me. It always made more and more sense.
When I left my second husband (five years after “Bob”’s death), I was officially on my own in the world (as a grown-up) and experienced what one of my counselors liked to refer to as “the divorce crazies.” Since I was always very aware of the history of alcohol and drug abuse in my family, I had always been very careful of how I used them. I was never much into partying but, I always loved a party. I had “Joey” when I was eighteen and fell in LOVE with him (just as I did with my daughter) so, when they were born, I was content to be at home with them. But, with them stretching their baby-wings and needing less and less of my time and, with all the new-found freedom I had found, I threw myself out into the world. There was alcohol. There were drugs. More depression, anxiety, psyche meds. I wound up with a psychiatrist, at this point, at the community mental health center who “thought I might have been bi-polar” but “didn’t feel comfortable making that diagnosis.” (I wonder why! He only spent fifteen minutes a month with me!) Still, he felt qualified enough to put me on Paxil, Seraquel and Klonopin. One thing led to another and, by ( ), I wound up in an emergency room getting my stomach pumped. I don’t even know why I ate those pills! It went against everything I believed in! It was SO contradictory from the Truth! (The Truth that I had NEVER stopped moving closer to; the Truth that every moment is a perfect gift.) But, even in the moment that I thought I was contradicting that truth (with the act of almost ending my life), the Truth remained. For, it was because of the overdose that I was led to the final step in my truly understanding the biological reactions happening in my brain and how they influence my perception(s) of life. In other words: even an experience as “heinous” and unimaginable as an attempted suicide returned the same answer: every moment is a perfect gift.
I was released from the local hospital after spending the night in ICU. The house psychiatrist interviewed me for about five minutes and decided that I didn’t take the pills because I actually wanted to die and discharged me on this basis. (I never really understood the logic behind that. I mean, if I was “out of my mind” enough to do something that actually had the potential to KILL me, regardless of my intention, how was I “safe?”) At any rate, I was grateful that I didn’t have to be admitted to the hospital’s psyche ward. I went home and embarked upon an intensive, months-long research project which began with my immediately contacting the Mood Disorders Clinic ( ) (founded and headed by Dr .) They admitted me to their program on an emergency basis and gave me my first official diagnosis: Bipolar II. I read every bit of information I could get my hands on! Finally, I had a starting point! Finally, I could arm myself with knowledge! So, while I participated in the 6-month research program at the clinic, got on Lithium for the first time and continued to pursue my bachelor’s degree at ( ) State, I read. And read. And read. I struggled with questions like, “Is this or that particular quality in me a result of my personality or bipolar disorder? Am I lively and spontaneous or am I impulsive and manic?” A few months into the program, the clinic changed my diagnosis to “Mixed States.” Throughout my own, personal research, I was particular disheartened by the “survival statistics” of people diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. I found out that Ernest Hemingway died of bi-polar disorder! Ernest Hemingway, for Pete’s sake! And his daughter, too! And, the questions continued to pile upon one another: “Am I truly creative or is all the artistry that comes out of me merely a side-effect of this freakin disorder?” “WHO AM I??”
I didn’t trust myself anymore. I didn’t feel in-control of who I was or what was going to happen to me! After all, there was a fully-loaded automatic weapon right in the room at the top of the stairs from where I overdosed! What if I had decided to use the gun instead??? So, I withdrew from the outside world. I submersed myself in knowledge. I focused on surviving. I continued to receive answers to my questions about the true nature of my existence and “why” I should “pray.”
I’d looked death square in the eyes. I knew what it smelled like, tasted like, felt like. Ultimately, I wound up with my back pressed against a wall, virtually numbed and disconnected. This seems like an altogether awful place to be. It was “awful;” just not “altogether.” In many ways, I had been “beaten.” Everything that I ever thought I’d believed in had come into question in the years following “Bob”’s death and leading up to the moment that I ate those pills. Through the numbness that followed the overdose, I was able to experience true freedom; the freedom of Truth. (One of my favorite sayings is a line from a Janis Joplin song: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”) It was only through my feeling as though I “had” nothing (and not caring) that I was able to let go and begin to understand that, at any given moment, I already have everything that I need. In other words: there is nothing to lose. Ever. I always have access to every thing that I could ever possibly think that I “need.” So, in other words, there’s nothing “left” to lose because it has always been impossible for me to “lose” anything….and…..every moment is a perfect gift.
I stayed on Lithium for about three years. There were other meds, too. I got really fat. I was almost bald. I had water-retention problems. I’d reached my maximum Lithium levels and still struggled with mood-swings and depression. It only took the edge off for me…made things more manageable. I refused to take any other meds besides Lithium after the bald/fat thing. So, I was putting myself in a position where I HAD to figure out how to take some responsibility for the chemicals firing away in my brain.
I took a Shakespeare course and an introduction to Physics (degree requirements.) Strange as it may sound, these two classes helped me (tremendously) in formulating my own, personalized “treatment plan.” They revealed this Universal Truth that I had endlessly reached toward in a manner that was so clean-cut and easy for me to read. It was like someone had drawn a map of my whole life experience and laid it out in front of me. I wrote an impressive paper on the Ambiguity of Hamlet’s delay (which my professor swore I wouldn’t be able to write because it was “just too broad.”) I wrote two other papers (in a subsequent English Studies class) on Annie Dillard’s “An American Childhood,” and Thomas Pynchon’s “The Crying of Lot 49,” the latter of which I titled “Infinite Ambiguity.” All of these papers were fundamental aspects of my finally reaching the horizon of Truth: not only is every moment a perfect gift but, every moment is connected. Because I asked the universe, the universe answered: We are all One. Because I sought enlightenment, I have been enlightened…so much so that I am constantly filled with peace….even when I’m depressed.
I’ve been medication-free for two months (except for marijuana, which is a self-prescribed medicine that has been TRULY EFFECTIVE in managing moods and is not killing my liver.) I’ve learned to move with the moods when they come, to flow with them, like water…instead of resisting. I’ve learned that, as with every thing in life, my moods are part of the passing parade and I should just let them pass. I’ve learned to appreciate the gifts that come as a result of constantly living on two opposite poles, at the same time. I’ve learned that bi-polar disorder really does contribute to my personality traits but that doesn’t mean that I’m “not really who I thought I was.” It’s no different than the fact that I have green eyes or that I prefer cherry dip on my ice cream cones to chocolate or blueberry. It’s just another thing that makes me an individual. It means that I’m special. I’m blessed. I am (and there never has been or ever will be another) ME. And, I have bi-polar disorder. So, why shouldn’t I embrace ALL of me? Furthermore, I’ve learned that every single human being that ever was or will be can say the exact same things. You’re special. You’re blessed. You are (and there never has been or ever will be) another YOU. There are no two snowflakes alike.
It was in the wisdom of understanding that every thing (person, place, idea, time) is unique and essential in forming an INFINITE “whole” that I finally found my answer about prayer. Why should I pray? To acknowledge the perfection of every thing…..exactly….as….it….is.
Perfect faith. It creates miracles where there were none. Because I look for them in my life, they are constantly manifesting themselves around me. It’s the Truth.