Two weeks ago I was laying in bed, reading my last messages of the day and saw a message up on Facebook that my friend Rob’s wife posted. I had missed earlier messages from weeks back and Amy, Rob’s wife, wrote that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer and not doing well. My heart started racing fast and tears started down my face. I wrote her directly and found out more but with each answer I started realizing that this was worse than I had originally thought. My husband got home and saw me sitting on the stairs, shocked, and I told him I couldn’t even speak the words; my throat was so tight and my eyes just flooded with tears.
I just knew we didn’t have a lot of time and wanted to see him fast. I laid in my bed I tried to think about how I could see him the next day. “I have a full day of classes to teach” I thought. Maybe I can break away for 30 minutes here or there. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew that my heart was really hurting and it wasn’t fair to even teach classes.
By 1am I was writing the places I teach at and asking their forgiveness for the last minute cancelation. The next day I was prepared to see the awful truth in the hospital and I’ll spare you the details but cancer is quite ugly and painful. I spent hours with him, his Wife and Mom. As I entered the room to see him, another High School friend was there and that made me so happy. I hadn’t seen his Mom in years so it was great to be together again even under these conditions. Rob was in a lot of pain and was so tired. At one point he held his arm above his head because lifting it helped his pain; I know this helps as it helps me with Migraines so I understood. I didn’t want him to have to struggle to hold his arm up so I just held his arm up for him. He managed to sleep and it made me feel good to hear him sleep that deep even if just for a few minutes.
Rob was so drugged and didn’t talk much but when he did, he did know who was with him. He talked about wanting to be someplace quiet and out of the hospital away from the noise. So Amy was talking to the Hospice about getting him there. In the meantime I was able to show Rob the photo of us taken back in High School; it was always a favorite picture that we both loved and he gave me a smile and thumbs up when I showed it to him.
There are many stories I hold near and dear to my heart about him; over 30 years knowing someone that is bound to happen. I’m not denying we had gaps of time not seeing each other but we always managed to come back and in doing so it was as if those gaps didn’t exist. When you have a friend like that in your life it is like returning to home.
The day after I visited him in the hospital I went to a gentle yoga and Nidra class for myself. Fortunately as I’ve practiced yoga more I’ve found ways to heal myself that don’t require substances. Gentle Yoga, Meditation and Nidra are my tools. For those that don’t know what ‘Nidra’ is, it is a helpful way to be guided through different tools of mindfulness. It isn’t about poses like yoga is; in fact the only “pose” is Shivasana the entire time. However you explore deeper elements physically and mentally of awareness.
For me on this day after seeing Rob I was dealing with mass experiences. Sadness or course. I knew that Rob would be passing soon and I’d be loosing a friend. Worry: that this was happening to him – “he is way too young; 48 is way too young.” Concern: What about his young girls? What about his wife? His Mom – nobody should have to bury their kid. Anger: Why him? This isn’t fair! Why him over others who are so hurtful or abusive? Joy: that I even knew him and got to have time with him in this life. Fear: that everything is temporary and we will all die. Disgust: that I just had that thought – “Duh” said Captain obvious. Then back to the circle of feelings again – repeat.
Needless to say our thoughts and emotions naturally work this way. They would work this way without a practice but the mindfulness helps me to be a witness to them and maybe build more compassion towards my thoughts. For example when Disgust comes in and sends me thoughts of guilt or shame, I can see that reaction and tell myself “you know the feeling you had about dying is something we all feel and although we know it, it doesn’t take away the pain. You have every right for this feeling”. We can be less about the rational thoughts or first reactions and more about the entire experience. So the practice starts to rewire our thoughts and emotions. It can happen in the every day places too; like what is that noise outside my window? Why does my shoulder hurt so much? What should I eat for lunch today?
Days after seeing him, I continued to spend time seeing the day to day lessons of what was going on right now. I needed more quiet time; turning the radio off in the car as I drove. I needed foods that would heal and get more sleep. I found ways to write out what was happening – like this article. I also found ways to be out in nature and walks with my dogs.
Sadly one week after I saw Rob in the hospital he past away at the Hospice in the middle of the night. He was able to be in a quiet place and be around his family. Less than 3 weeks ago he was diagnosed and his last post on social media he wrote that the pain was so bad – “Does this go away” Unfortunately the sad truth is “yes” but not the way any of us had hoped for.
RIP Rob – you will be forever in my heart.
Taken Fall 1984 outside Montgomery Blair HS – that fall we had many false fire alarms and once again found ourselves hanging out as we waited to be told it was ok to go in. The Yearbook Photographer asked if we minded and we hugged and smiled.
Some say a picture is a thousand words. In this case it is more like a million.