End of Life Wisdom

I have learned over the past few years that love is a reliable pathway. (disclaimer- I’m uncertain of *where* exactly this pathway will take me – maybe that’s part of the point- but I am certain: love. is. the. way.)

A terminal brain cancer diagnosis at 34 years old brought my imminent finitude into view in no uncertain terms. Firstly, the compassionate family doctor unveiled the news: 12 months. “That’s the average survival with someone with your diagnosis.” She said. Then my not-so-compassionate brain surgeon declared, “This cancer always comes back and its hardly ever operable at that point. It’s a bummer diagnosis.” As if my weekend plans had been cancelled, not my life’s future.

My dismal prognosis, however, brought purpose and meaning of life into fuzzy clarity. My gut knew life’s truth with 100% clarity: love, love, love- giving and receiving love is what life is all about. My clarity was fuzzy, however, because the trauma of learning I had one year to live with twin babies and a four-year-old at home plunged me into the grips of terror. I began flinching at loud sounds. My head was a swimming pool of chaos when conversations swirled around me  on the schoolyard with my daughter or in the church lobby after service. The tightness in my chest clawed up into the back of my throat with any amount of commotion. And my small children are commotion connoisseurs!

Year by year as terror weakens her grasp, love strengthens hers and what I call my “end of life wisdom” holds true: love is the most meaningful, purpose-filled part of life.

Daily Examen

Of course, translating this esoteric knowing into a practical way of being and doing is challenging. In February I asked my counselor, Kurt, “How can I stop hustling for my worth?!”. I was frustrated at my continual default of trying to prove my value and hide behind my accomplishments, because not only was it amplifying anxiety, it was hampering my ability to engage in loving others.

“You need to press into love.” Kurt responded, “Have you heard of the Daily Examen?”.

I had not. He described three reflective questions rooted in a process popularized by 16th century St. Ignatius.

  1. God (Universe/Higher Power) how do you see me?
  2. How did I love today?
  3. Where did I miss an opportunity to love?


I’ve always been deeply spiritual and God has been a source of love for me. God to me now, is love energy. When I make time to sit in that love energy I feel my worth and know that I am loved. When I ask myself, How did I love today? The question really is: “How did I bare my soul to the world today and share my fleshy bits (not my crusty protective layer)? How well did I bare my soul today? And henceforth, “Where did I miss an opportunity?”.

Surrender to Love

Moreover, when I walked out of Kurt’s office, I sat in my car and journaled on my phone:

I see that I need to surrender to love. I need to surrender to believing I am loved and lovable. I need to surrender into the vulnerability of loving others. Love is a mystery whose only certainty is grief. Can I surrender to love’s mystery and certain grief? Can I surrender to love in all its vulnerability, inefficiency, uncertainty, imperfection, impermanence, and incompletion? Can I still say yes to love after I acknowledge all of this? A black box sort of warning? Well, “dying” has shown me that love is what life is all about. If all I have done in my life is loved well, well, I can be satisfied with that. Knowing what it is like to be on death’s doorstep and gutterly knowing that love, more love, is what I wanted and is what matters most of all.

I can no longer ignore love’s pathway. Our culture shows us a comfortable and conveniently paved, broad path towards power, consumerism, and productivity. As for me I choose the gnarly, rugged, route towards love with uncertainty at every step. I’m sure at times I’ll lose sight of the path as I go, but with kindness to myself, I’ll make my way back; my end of life wisdom is too persistent.

When I embrace love in this way I am better able to surrender to my unquestionable finitude and live more expansively. In a way, transcending my prognosis to take a chance at actually living the life I have (which is indeed a tall task for all of us not only those with a terminal diagnosis.

This Fall

This fall as I embark on finishing my memoir amidst all the activities, schedules and family demands, I’m turning my focus to author bell hook’s wisdom: “living simply makes loving simple.” I simplify life in whatever ways I can so love is simple, so love transfuses the activities, the schedules, the demands.

Because I just know  that at the end of the day, week, month, year, life, love is the pathway. Who’s with me?



ps. all these thoughts and more are a book that is growing inside of me (and on flowsheets and outlines on my desk) that just can’t help itself, despite all efforts to primarily focus on memoir writing. Eek!