This is a rough transcript of my words spoken at the Panama City Relay for Life
Over 20 years ago I went to my first memorial type ceremony, similar in intention to this luminary ceremony. At the time I was deeply moved since it was only a couple years out from my own diagnosis and recovery.
I had heard just days before a gal I had meet in the radiation lobby, “Heather,” when I was halfway thru my treatments …
Heather ended up being someone I had shared many of my healing strategies. We practiced meditation together. I helped her configure a powerful affirmation for her daily practice on her own. I even give her my wig when her insurance wouldn’t get her a new one. She was someone I shared all I had discovered on my own. My deepest hope was to help her survive the massive tumor in her head.
I was frustrated sad discouraged
It was extremely difficult for me to witness the process of remembrance
…& thought I could never do it again.
But of course there was a next time….
This time I went through the ceremony consumed by guilt … as what seemed like an endless display & calling of names ensued, face after face appeared on a large screen mesmerizing me.
Though none of them, really fully registering.
Instead what I kept hearing in my head was,
“Why had I survived and they hadn’t?”
In the memoir I wrote recently, Inspired to Live The Story of an Unlikely Rebel, I share my experience of being in a graduate writing seminar. This seminar was being led by a fairly famous breast cancer survivor, Deena Metzger.
In the book I recount how she had us re-write a moment from our life a moment we have retold many times, but this time we were to write from the perspective of someone else in the situation.
I, of course, choose my cancer diagnosis moment.
This first part of the exercise challenged my emotions and shook me deeply.
However, the next part of the exercise was even more brilliant.
She had us write the same moment from the perspective of an ancestor.
I’ve never shared this story before tonight.
The ancestral voice that called to me to write from the perspective of was my Grandpa Ben.
The only relative I had lost to cancer at that point in my life.
He had lung cancer. The story of which I only know from my Granny Grace’s recountings to me.
She would tell me how his was so weak. She told me of how she administers his treatments to him in bed. She told me of how when I was six weeks old they lay me on his chest. He struggled to breath and quickly had to ask for me to be removed.
In this class this man’s voice was clear.
It told me many things, all boiling down
You are suppose to be alive!
Your story matters.
You can make a difference with what is to come.
Each memorial encounter since those first two
have been a new evolution in my ability to witness loss.
I noted on my travels over the coming years how the people of Mexico & akin cultures. Individuals in China, and other countries I visited all did a yearly ritual of honoring the ancestors.
I decided to begin such a ritual in my own life.
I choose Halloween as the day I would do the same. It both falls in close proximity of Dia de los Muertous (Day of the Dead) &
also the day on which I was told I had a 50% chance of remaining alive.
This ritual is an important part of my continual healing of loses in my life.
We honor ourselves, & our emotions by remembering them.
This ritual is now an important step, for me, in the process of releasing (without feeling those who have been a part of my life are not forgotten) and eventually growing into a new relationship with them and the memory of them.
Putting things now gone to rest allows new life…. So we can grow.
Mark Nepo, brain cancer survivor, points us to see that,
“Burying a loved one, a dream or a false way of seeing becomes fertilizer (nutrients – my choice of word instead) for a life about to form.”
The count of all the people who have nourished my life is now unknown to me now. I stopped keeping track of the tally. However their stories live on respectfully within me.
After my yoga teacher training in India in 1999…. I returned to Northern California
I began teaching yoga in a newly built cancer center.
Randy … was 1 of my first yoga students
No matter how tired her body… she would make her way back to the Santa Rosa Memorial cancer center for class.
Sometimes just to lie beneath the large windows soaking in the sun rolling off the green hills laying its rays onto her now completely flat chest.
She would smile to just be within range of the vibes coming off her fellow patients partaking in the slow yoga movements. That smile still nourishes me.
Sandy… died shortly after her 40th birthday party.
For he last b-day celebration forty of us loaded a large pirate ship & sailed the San Francisco Bay. She beamed with energy more so than any other time I had seen her since her diagnosis with ovarian cancer.
I sat many hours with her at home & …eventually beside her hospice bed in a beautiful Victorian in a quiet SF neighborhood.
She loved being alive so dying was not easy for her.
Remembering her fight for life, the energy she could exude, still nourishes my spirit with gratitude that I have a life to live.
Then I prompted them as they ready to the walk the track and take in all the names & drawings created to remember them on the bags.
Even if you don’t know the face it may call out to you.
What is it about this person that moves you toward being more of who you are?
Imagine how they would encourage you if you could still hear their voice?