I died once. Seriously. I took what was (almost) my last breath on the evening of August 5th, 2001. For real.
After being hospitalized for a battle with pneumonia while seven months pregnant with Megan, my blood pressure suddenly spiked. I slipped from pre-eclampsia to full tilt eclampsia and before they took Megan via emergency c-section I went into convulsions.
Finally, while in recovery with my (thankfully) healthy baby safely in the regular nursery, Michael watched as I struggled to breathe. And then there was that fateful, final breath as I coded. Right in front of him.
Needless to say, I'm still here, so there's a happy ending. But it was a long time coming. My breathing remained compromised and my blood pressure stayed high even on medication for months. Two weeks after that event I developed the addition of excruciating gallstones and was at constant risk for pancreatitus. But no surgeon wanted to touch me to remove my gallbladder -- all were afraid I wouldn't live thru even a laproscopic procedure. No one thought I would be able to care for my child. I did tho, thru sheer will, determination and pure love.
The saga of how I went from that dying woman to relative health (if you don't count breast cancer) is a long one, destined for another time. What I am writing about today is what if feels like to die. It's an uncomfortable thought for many, but I want to share my experience.
My eyes were closed and I was unable to open them, tho I didn't try very hard. Still, I remember taking that last breath. I remember it very clearly. I had no awareness that the surgery was over. For all I knew I was still under the anesthesia or just waking up, it made no difference to me. After every thing I had been thru to conceive this precious child (a saga in and of itself) in my unconscious state I couldn't think of her at all.
Instead I was completely absorbed with the process of breathing. It was the most difficult task I had ever experienced. Each breath was a struggle, and it had been for weeks. But now it was harder than ever before. I was trying with all my might to remain calm, not to panic. Like someone trying to tread water I knew that if I panicked I would drown, I would not be able to maintain my breathing. And as suddenly as that realization hit me, an inner voice said, "Just let go. You can stop now. You don't have to do this anymore, it's okay."
And so I stopped. I just simply stopped struggling, stopped breathing. A feeling of peace came over me, a sense of calm and relief the likes of which I have never known. I was almost thrilled that it was that easy. So much fighting and struggling and all I had to do was let go.
I don't remember having a choice about living or dying, just the feeling of falling and the sound of someone screaming at me, "come back, come back, come back!" After that, my next memory is waking up later in the ICU and trying to find out about my baby. It was a long, painful night until the next day when I could finally hold my precious little girl. That memory too is powerful, in fact, more powerful than life or death. It was only the horror that I could have left her behind that made me glad to be back in my suffering body again, more than glad, I was elated...and grateful.
I carried away many insights from that trauma, some still reveal themselves to me now, nearly 8 years later. I consider my daughter's birthday my re-birthday because it was the beginning of a journey to health and a new life. You don't realize how precious something is, sometimes, until you almost lose it.
In a literal sense I found out death itself is nothing to fear. True, the time leading up to it may be more horrendous than anyone can imagine if you suffer from prolonged illlness, but the end part is simple, peaceful and soothing. I find that to be a great comfort. Especially now as I face an illness that could be what I eventually die from, tho I am as determined to avoid that fate now as I was to live once I came back from the dead on that August day.
I also can't help but think in metaphorical terms and find a life lesson in the symbolism. I had struggled alot in my life, I had railed against inevitabilities and prior traumas, held on tightly to my many wounds. It had left me battle scarred and more weary than I can describe. I needed to just let go, but somehow I couldn't. Over the first years of Megan's life as I dealt with recovery and motherhood I realized letting go is easier than we think. It really comes down to an infamous cliche of three little words: Just do it. Nothing is so important that it can't be let go if need be.
Oh, except life itself. That's worth the struggle at all costs to the bitter end. But when that end naturally comes, letting go of even that can be simple, gentle and freeing.
I will not go gentle into that good night, but when the night is over, many, many healthy years from now, there is peace waiting for me...for us all.
Trust me, I've been there, done that.