By Mary Petersen
Signal Staff Writer
My friend’s husband is in the hospital. He has had various tests, procedures and biopsies for the last few months and can’t seem to regain his health. This was a man who was in good health prior to all this — no pre-existing conditions. That is why it’s so disorienting and bewildering that his condition is worsening.
It’s trite to say that life changes in the blink of an eye. Hardship strikes without forewarning. We’re blindsided by unanticipated and unpredictable events. It’s a helpless feeling and uncomfortably reminds us how little control we have over circumstances in our lives.
Such is the human condition. We are dependent on living in a body which we know with certainty will pass away at some point. We can’t dwell on this notion or we wouldn’t be able to carry on washing clothes and paying bills and going to the grocery store. But at times like this, contemplating it is unavoidable.
Our daughter has been dealing with this as she heard about her friend, only 38 years old, who succumbed to a pancreatic ailment. It has triggered so many emotions in her — shock at its unexpectedness, sadness for his fiancée, fear about the health of her loved ones and gratitude for the simple blessings in her life. As painful as the grieving process is, death is one of the most universal experiences of being human and connects us most profoundly to one another.
As my friends endure their ordeal, I reflect on the transitory nature of life and the ebb and flow of its bittersweet ups and downs. Life, in the words of writer Glennon Melton, is both beautiful and brutal. She coined the phrase “Life is Brutiful” to reflect this binary. Life is mysterious and hilarious and heart-wrenching and joyous.
We are hopeful that our friend will overcome his health struggles and return home soon. Our friends and family have enveloped them in love and support. We have felt the power of witnessing and holding their joys and griefs at the deepest level.
What else is there but to draw close and carry one another through crises at our most vulnerable times? It seems to me that life’s essential act is to accompany others through this difficult journey with generosity, kindness and compassion. It is in this shared humanity that we feel a profound sense of belonging and connection and purpose. We put things into perspective and realize that we are all in this together. Author and social justice activist L.R. Knost instructs readers with this powerful and poignant insight:
“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living the heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.”
Mary Petersen is a retired COC English instructor, a 30-year SCV residentand two-time breast cancer survivor.