Last week my sister said, “I’m going to die in 21 days.” If someone tells you they will be dying in three weeks, they’re either planning their own suicide or their doctor has told them this is how much time they have left as a result of their terminal illness. My sister does not have a terminal illness. She has breast cancer, with some viable choices that could extend her life for who knows how many years, but definitely more than three weeks. She has chosen to not take them.
I’m ready for the next adventure, she tells me. But she doesn’t ask if I’m ready.
Her oncologist, who has three medical degrees, is the most unconventional M.D. I’ve ever heard of. Four years ago when she was first diagnosed and she couldn’t decide whether to go the radiation and chemo route, he suggested she fly down to Telum, Mexico, and meditate with the ancients. You will come home with clarity, he said. And she did. I would rather have quality of life, not quantity, she said. No drugs.
He put her on a strict diet of no sugar (cancer, he said, thrives on sugar), no dairy, no wheat, among many other alternative remedies. And within two years, two of the tumors disappeared completely, and the third one had shrunk considerably in size. With her life force renewed, she had energy for her 10 grandchildren, her many friends, and her painting.
She published a book, went on a book-signing tour, did readings, and kept her job as a nondenominational minister.
Last year, when she turned 84, the tumor that hadn’t quite disappeared began growing again. She was experiencing severe pain, and her doctor asked her what she wanted to do this time. She said, “I think I want to eat whatever I want and have as much joy with the time I have left.” Family members and friends had lists of ideas and doctors and protocols, arguments about why she should stay with us as long as there was a possibility of her survival.
Her response was, “I’m done with this part of my journey. I’ve had an amazing life. My kids are all settled. My grandkids have been launched. I have no outstanding issues, no unresolved story lines, no unfinished business. I feel complete and at peace.”
I kept quiet.
Because her argument was hard to argue with.
My sister and I FaceTime almost every day, and it has been fun watching her savor her beloved croissant with gobs of the forbidden cream cheese, listen to her describe the delicious soup she made that morning, read me a poem she had written years ago that she had just found in her files. She calls me late at night, animated about a film she just finished watching. You have to get it, she says, it’s on Netflix.
Is this the profile of a person who’s going to die in three weeks?
“How are you doing?” my husband asks me. How am I doing? It’s the question I keep asking myself. If my sister were lying in bed, weak and weeping, I’d be getting on a plane, sobbing in public, and jumping into bed with her. But she’s as alive as anyone.
My teacher, Ram Dass, tells a story of his disembodied friend Emmanuel. Ram Dass had said, Emmanuel, I am meditating every day, trying to be conscious, become a better listener, practicing moderation. Why does s___ still happen to me? And Emmanuel said, Ram Dass, you’re at the University of Life. Take the curriculum.
I’m reading a book by Deepak Chopra, a pioneer of integrative medicine. In “Metahuman,” his newest, he says we go way beyond our physical selves, that our bodies are an information construct, that we don’t stop at the barrier of our skin. He writes that we have no boundary, that we are constantly emitting heat and a mild electrical charge that is part of universal fields that extend into infinity. So wait. Does this mean if she dies she continues on?
I have believed in reincarnation for 45 years, when I first began reading and listening to Eastern spiritual teachers. So of course if she dies, she continues on. But I was OK with reincarnation in theory. Am I OK with it in practice?
Eckert Tolle, another great teacher, says death is just going from form to formless. That has been at the core of my understanding of death.
Can I compartmentalize and believe one thing but not want my sister to go from form to formless?
I just found out the Hebrew word for test has the word miracle right there embedded in it. נסה (pronounced Nah-sah) has as its root the word for miracle — נס (Nais).
So am I being tested? And is the miracle that I am taking my curriculum and I will pass with flying colors?
I have always written to find out what I am feeling and thinking. And this time is no different. There’s a part of me that can’t stop crying, and another part in awe at her lack of fear. She’s always been my mentor, and now once again she’s forcing me to put my money where my heart is.
Yesterday she said she was in a lot of pain but didn’t want to take the morphine the doc gave her. I said, ”Why in the world not?” And in all seriousness, she said, “It’s addicting.” There was a pause and then we both cracked up laughing.
So now I wonder if you’re thinking, wow, those Slonim sisters are a pair.
Well, actually, yes we are.
One of us is still in form and the other … well, that remains to be seen.