This morning I sat outside on Nora’s peaceful patio here in Arizona, practicing mindful meditation on this late-April morning. The day had not warmed yet the dry air comfortably surrounded my bare legs and arms. When my eyes opened, they serenely gazed at a plant in gorgeous bloom, then moved to the swimmer’s pool where water gently rippled toward the tree end of the pool, as three small trees cast stunning shadows onto the walkway, rocks, and water’s rhythm.
A mockingbird sang to me as, far away, I heard heavy equipment tell its raucous story of new construction in this desert place where, when Nora bought this home two decades ago, there were no other homes, just hers and the stunning desert mountains.
I felt surrounded and embraced by beauty, today unable to pair this natural beauty with Nora, fifteen minutes away in a hospital ward, quietly, gracefully, determinedly waging her silent battle against the disease named glioblastoma that seeks to steal her body.
The pale, balding, easily nauseated, seemingly gentle blue-eyed woman chooses to deal with her disease with unfathomable grace. She has never uttered a word of complaint. She moves through each moment of her day with all the poise she can manage: she reads the paper and magazines that arrive in the mail; she watches her favorite television programs; she checks her emails on her smart phone; she enjoys visitors.
My eyes lifted up and outward then to the breathtaking mountains so near. Nora mentioned yesterday there’s not one of these that she’s not climbed several times. She retired early at 60 and never ceased her love of hiking, this woman who has been so healthy and so fit all her life that it was utterly incongruous to accept the diagnosis of stage 4 brain cancer.
If I think of Nora’s body as the sparkling pool water, then imagine pouring gallons of black oil into it and watching the horrific assault of pollution slowly seep into every corner of the pool as that brain cancer did, that’s the level of incongruity I feel. We’re in a hard place right now, three weeks after chemo and radiation completed, her white blood count is dangerously low and she is hospitalized in isolation, at a high risk for infection. Visitors must wear masks, gloves, and gowns. Strong, broad spectrum antibiotics drip into her veins along with anti-nausea medication.
We view this time as another slide into the black hole, and affirm that she’ll climb out again. She is working hard at physical therapy to regain use of her right leg and arm, part of her body–that tall, gentle lifetime companion to her soul who has become this recent stranger. In my mind, I picture her one day home again, sitting next to me here drinking in the peace, solitude, and beauty that she created long ago.
In this time of uncertainty, I do know one thing for certain: whatever course this disease travels, Nora has created an amazing space in our world. Just as her spirit is here with it now, the quiet stunning grace and gentleness such a profound reflection of her psyche, she will forever be a part of this landscape.