When my heart stopped talking with my lungs I was informed I wasn’t a candidate for a heart lung transplant. I couldn’t ask why, the question stuck in my throat like a small bird. When I finally understand what the doctors were saying, I walked out of the hospital to the blazing summer sun of Oahu and called my boyfriend, and he hung up on me.
Just a few minutes before, I had asked the two female doctors if I would live see my granddaughter born. They asked when she was was due, then they looked at their flat, sensible shoes.
All this brought me to crying in front of the coffee cart outside, making it even harder to breathe, not knowing how to ask the universe for more. More life, more breath, more understanding, more laughter. A small woman crossed the courtyard, and handed me a stack of non absorbent brown utility napkins. This simple gesture was the first act of love.
I boarded the bus to go home. A man on the bus was playing a ukulele. I flew home with a song from a stranger in my heart.
Shortly after, my boyfriend moved out of the home we shared. He had been planning the breakup, but didn’t know how to leave an unwell woman. The stakes had become so high for both of us. Him leaving us was the second act of love.
I hosted my daughter’s baby shower at my home, began exercising more, even though I was told to lay down, biking up challenging hills, talking to my heart. My friend Limor came and helped me rearrange my bedroom and we hung blue curtains to let more light in.
As I got stronger, I began to remember how I had become the partial hard shell embedded in the rock of love. When I couldn’t breathe at night, which had become every night, my boyfriend had held my sweating, barely breathing body, telling me everything was going to be alright and not believing it at all.
Over time, in those days before he left, he had gotten less and less sleep, until he was so sleep deprived it became difficult for him to work and drive the long rural roads back to our home at night. He wrote letters to the specialist on Oahu on my behalf and often smoothed over his eyebrows and stared at the cracks in our relationship.
I became the thick vine on his tree of life, until both of us weren’t breathing.
After he was gone I returned to all the things that brought me the most joy and breath – listening to the stories of others, editing a book for someone that was being turned into a screenplay.
Over time, I returned to myself without clinging to the body or life of anyone. When I saw the doctors again, during a second procedure, the results confused them. My heart and lungs were finally having that cup of coffee and finishing each other’s sentences, like friends reunited after a long absence.
What doctors had seen before in the images they had taken was not there now, at least not in the same way.
And here is what I wanted to tell everyone today who may be facing challenges – we can’t hold another person’s head underwater with us when we feel we are drowning. Pulling someone we love down with us is not an act of love, it’s an act of fear.
I learned how to show up for myself fully, which was the third Act of Love.
Love always comes from the most unexpected places – a stranger handing you napkins to absorb your tears or that deep place inside yourself where the fragments that are needed for the whole of you must be brought to the surface.
Love comes first from within, not from without. When we stop radiating outward, we are stepping into our own shadow, our own dark cave.
I had to learn I don’t breathe with my lungs or my heart, but with my whole body. Breathing is the very act of living fully.
In time, my boyfriend and I learned to love without holding, without clinging, without malice, without either of us being a victim of the other. We learned a new way of sharing time and space and heart and body and future.
Love heals, but there is no scorecard or prognosis or lover or medical doctor or treatment that can fully heal us. We have to grow into our own healing. It’s part of the sacred contracts and universal evolution of our self in relation to others.
Months later, I had the honor of witnessing my granddaughter’s head crowning between my daughter’s thighs like a small, bright planet.
She’s five now and I often tell her about the day she was born – how she brought with her More. More love, more time, more joy, more challenges, more breath – more growth for everyone in the family.
Love healed me, though the journey was unpredictable, filled with loose rocks and a boulder I had to learn could not be lifted. I had to journey my way around it, and the journey became my new contract with the universe.
Love can heal you, too, if you let it.
Your essay is so filled with hope, even in light of a terrifying diagnosis and abandonment. It helps me to see the diagnosis can be a challenge to find your strength and the abandonment can be a gift of freedom to plumb the depths of your own soul. I am dealing with my mothers’ end of life hardships while trying to maintain my own identity amidst many codependency traits that are dredged up during a trying time like this. You have bolstered my resolve to make my own sacred contract with the universe, paring down the outside noise and seeing what I need in my life for myself. Thank you.