What makes me feel alive? Let me indulge some recent memories in an attempt to answer.
In May, 2011, I lost two sisters to untimely deaths. They were twins; fifty-seven years old, each. On May 22, 2011, Pat ingested a lethal overdose of medications. It was an intentional suicide. She lingered in intensive care about 24 hours, and then was gone. She had written 3 suicide notes: one to her husband of 35 years, one to her best friend, and one to her doctor. All three notes said the same thing. The recent cancellation of her health insurance and denial of a new policy by several companies due to ‘pre-existing conditions’ caused her to take her life. She did not want to be a financial burden to her husband. She didn’t want to be alive because she couldn’t afford the medications she needed to enjoy life. She died on May 23rd. Exactly one week later, on May 30th, her twin sister, Penny, died in my home. She had been battling lung cancer unsuccessfully and had been under Hospice care since mid-April. I was with her when she drew her last breath. One minute she was alive, the next minute she was not. I watched her, and held her hand, as her body became an empty shell.
The weeks immediately after these two deaths left me in shock and deep in grief. It is two and a half years later now, and I know I still am grieving, but not as intensely. I know from losing a brother several years ago, and from the death of my Mother, that the grief never completely goes away. We lose someone we love, and we hurt with an intensity that is hard to verbalize at first. Slowly, we begin to find ways to cope. Part of my coping, in the loss of my two sisters, was to make a conscious choice to live fully, with joy, to honor both of their lives. My mantra has become: “They died, you are alive….so live.” So, what makes me feel alive?
Waking up in the morning and knowing I can move makes me feel alive. That may sound over simplistic. It isn’t deep or profound, but it is real. I get up to use the bathroom around 6 am and I feel the stiffness in my ankles and knees as I stumble to the bathroom. I say a quiet prayer of thanks that I am able to sleep, wake up, feel my bladder full, stumble out of bed, feel the stiffness in my limbs, and feel the sweet relief as I release my urine into the toilet. These events are not exciting, but they start my day with gratitude for my living, functional body, and I know that I am alive.
I stumble back to bed, and I snuggle in for a few more hours with my darling husband. Feeling his breath on me, feeling the roughness of his unshaven beard, feeling the warmth of him next to me makes my heart sing with joy, and I know that I am alive. I feel his touch, and savor the reality that when he is touching me I feel more alive than any other moment of the day. We wake up slowly together, we embrace lovingly and linger in each others embrace…not wanting the days’ activities to separate us. I know I am alive and my gratitude increases as my sleepiness fades.
The cold water in the shower that takes too long to warm up reminds me that I’m alive. Frustration with an antiquated plumbing system is a luxury that only the living can afford. My dog whines to be let out, I open the door and feel the cool morning air on my face. I linger and enjoy the moment, knowing that my life is a gift. My cat cries to be fed, and I am alive, smelling the repugnant cat food that makes my stomach turn a bit as I put food in her dish. I am alive. I smile to myself as I try to avoid breathing in the wet cat food odor.
I wander into the living room and take in the beauty of the Christmas tree and fireplace mantle, decorated and ready to celebrate another Christmas.
I think about the joy my family will share on Christmas morning, opening gifts and laughing and loving together. I know I am alive, and I am thankful for the abundance symbolized by the gifts gathering under the Christmas tree. I gaze upon the beautiful Poinsettia given to me by my good friend, and I know that I am alive.
I leave for work and I listen to Christmas music on the radio. I wince at the songs I dislike and sing along with my favorites, grinning to myself. I am alive and the music flows through me and sings in the cells of my body. I smell the smells of Christmas…the scent of neighbors burning fires in their fireplaces fills the air with a smoky, wintry smell. The scent of fresh-cut pine makes me smile and think of Christmases past….family memories of picking just the right tree and the ritual of finding one with a long and straight enough trunk to fit into the tree stand flood over me. I am alive and living through another Christmas, making new memories, filling stockings on Christmas eve once again. I think about my grandson and the fact that he will be here on Christmas day to share in our family holiday. Nearly 4 now, he is excited about Christmas this year. I look forward to his quick grin and sparkling blue eyes, to feeling his hugs and hearing his chatter….and yes, I am thankful that I am alive.
Living day by day, telling those who I love how very much they mean to me, cherishing old Christmas memories while making new ones, I know I am alive and I choose each day….each moment…to live as fully as possible. I’m living a rich life, full of close connections and possibilities not yet fully realized. I think of my loved ones who are no longer here to embrace those they love on Christmas, or any other day; and I renew my promise to myself to live fully. I breathe in the magic and beauty and quiet peacefulness that is Christmas, and I know that I am alive. I choose to embrace this life with all of it’s bittersweet moments, big and small.
What makes you feel alive?
Wishing you moments of full living every day, and a very very Merry Christmas.