An excerpt from Ending the Search: From Spiritual Ambition to the Heart of Awareness
Grace is a gift that seems to come unexpectedly when we’re open and available to receive it. The experience of grace comes in moments of openness when we’re gifted with a feeling or an unexpected insight that’s given from the deepest dimension of Being. The Light of grace often comes in quiet moments, but it can also come in times of suffering, pain, or even desperation. We might call this fierce grace, a grace that comes when we don’t know what to do or where to turn in the midst of our suffering or heartache. Sometimes when our heart is broken, grace might invite us to leave it open. Transformation can spring forth from our deepest challenges.
In 2014, my husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. In the matter of birth, life, and death for my immediate family, we had already faced two additional cancer diagnoses—my own and our daughter. Sometimes in the darkest and most uncertain times for our family, there were moments of beauty, moments of joy, moments of unexpected insight, and a fierce love that showed up for all of it. I say “fierce” because love sometimes needed to show up as a protector, a cook, a “no” to well-meaning friends bombarding us with advice, the open space for our feelings, fatigue, and fears. Love doesn’t abandon us, and it’s our pain that’s most in need of compassion.
After months of aggressive treatments, unbelievable fatigue, and dietary challenges for my husband, his oncologist announced that he actually had a clear scan. We were in disbelief, relief, and joy, imagining we might have at least one more Christmas together. However, two months after the wonderful news, he died of sepsis. Where is the grace here?
My husband and I had been married nearly 50 years at the time of his passing. That itself was a grace for which I’m truly grateful. We shared the joys and sorrows of life together—the births of our children, the deaths of our parents, the challenges of my cancer diagnosis, our daughter’s, and now his. There was hardly ever a day in our lives that we didn’t share laughter, good food, and music.
Our children and I were with him in a hospice room as he breathed his last breaths. It was a very peaceful death, and immediately after that last breath, two hawks circled right outside the window. Freedom seemed to be showing itself in flight.
The night after his passing, I had fallen asleep in exhaustion when someone squeezing my hand awakened me. His presence in the room was palpable, and he reassured me that he was fine. A few days later, I walked to a park where the two of us used to walk frequently, and I felt his presence immediately. A hummingbird began to circle near me. It felt as though my husband and I communicated through the medium of that hummingbird. Through my tears, his presence as THE Presence was incredibly potent.
After a while, feeling like it was time for me to walk home, I asked the universe, “If it’s time for me to go, let me see the hummingbird one more time.” Sure enough, the bird appeared, but as I began to walk in the direction of home, the hummingbird beckoned me in the other direction, so I followed the bird to a lovely fountain. Once again, the hummingbird disappeared. I asked once more: “If you’re really here, let me see the hummingbird again.” But the hummingbird did not come at once. Instead, what came so deeply, so very powerfully, so very profoundly, was this: “Now you see me in the olive trees; now you see me in the flowers; now you see me in the clouds; now you see me in the sky.” And as my whole being seemed to receive and understand this all the way through, the hummingbird appeared not two feet from my face and took a drink from the fountain.
When Ramana Maharshi, a 20th century Indian sage, was dying, he told his followers, “They say I am leaving. But where could I go? I am here.” I feel deeply that my husband is “here” in that same way. What we all are in our essence has gone nowhere; it’s here everywhere I look. Death does not end love, and even in so-called death, there’s no separation in the Heart we have always shared. All that has happened is a transformation, not an ending. At some point before, or certainly at the moment of death, we’ll all be transformed, as well; we’ll go beyond form and yet lose nothing of our deepest essence that is Spirit.
The grace of awakening to our deepest essence, does not mean grief will not arise. Love shows itself as grief in the face of loss in our human expressions. We can embrace with compassion however grief shows up, not trying to resist it or hold on to it, letting it come when it comes and go when it goes, like all of life. Facing into death can show us that death of the form is not an end, but a transformation, and perhaps the beginning of a deeper love, a deeper freedom, a deeper joy that confirms this truth: There simply is No Separation.