I woke up on Monday feeling light, relaxed. Like most mornings, it took me a while to be fully awake and feel my body. It seemed fine. I rose to sit up but could not. There was a sharp pain in my lower back. A vertebra had pinched a nerve. My body tightened; it did not let me turn to either side. The pain went up the spine until it reached between my shoulder blades, behind my heart. A stabbing sensation shortened my breath to a minimum. My neck was next. The immobilization now was total. A soft moan, some tears. I tried to push my head and shoulders backwards to expand the chest. It did not work. Instead, the effort made my body slide off the side of the bed. I hit the floor with the weight of a dead body.
My husband heard the noise and came to my aid. He massaged and aligned my body with care. My back cracked like fireworks as he stretched it. I spent the next couple days with my body armor on—lower back, upper back, and neck straps and holders. Lying down was uncomfortable, so was sitting, standing was the worst. Discomfort, much discomfort, reactivity, flashes of nervousness and irritability. I felt like screaming and screamed some, and took painkillers.
By Thursday morning, I felt much better. I took the straps and holders off and was able to walk with care, to turn slowly and to sit with my back straight and turn at the waist. My neck continued to be quite stiff but there was a bit more flexibility. Everything was definitely going back to normal.
For many years, from time to time I had had similar arthritic episodes. Although each had been getting more painful and incapacitating over time, I had grown kind of used to them by now. Nevertheless, they bothered me all the same, every single time. Aging is a persistent teacher.
Thursday evening when I was resting on an armchair watching a movie while waiting for my husband to finish some reading and join me for dinner, from one moment to the next, I felt ill, very ill. It was not the bones. This time it was my belly. It did not feel like food poisoning or bladder or kidney stones. I recognized all those. This was not anything I knew.
In a matter of seconds, an excruciating pain spread all over my body. My senses got blocked. It was as if a thick transparent cover, which stopped all connection with the outside world, enveloped me. I only heard, felt, inside me. A metallic, nauseating noise rang in my ears and a vibration like tiny ants walking everywhere shook me. It was hard to think; I just embraced myself, held myself the best I could. My head, heavy as a rock, pulled my torso forward against my legs. I tried to sit up, but it was impossible. The pain brought me to my knees, onto the floor. My husband was only a few yards away, in the next room. I tried calling him. My voice was low, inward. I managed to say his name. Caught up in his reading, he asked me what I needed but I was barely able to speak. After what seemed like years, I was able to repeat his name.
Time dissolved. I do not know how long it took for my husband to get to where I was; I was going in and out of consciousness. I remember looking sideways at one point, and seeing him looking at me with a worried expression. He was unsuccessfully trying to keep my head up and kept calling my name. My husband was scared. The noise in my ears, inside my head, got louder. My voice went lower, to a murmur. This pain was strange, indescribable. I felt a boiling heat running through my nerves, my veins, and my muscles. It felt like a powerful invisible hand tightened and twisted my upper body, my head, and my legs, like one does with a wet cloth about to be hung on a rope under the sun.
However, slowly I became aware that there was a deep silence and calmness inside and all around me. I was absorbed in this silence and calm more and more, such peace. The mind was thoughtless. My eyelids, heavy, kept closing, wanting to fall asleep. There was sweetness in the air. There was stillness. It felt like a delicate caress. I tried to tell my husband that everything was all right…the pain did not matter any more. Nothing mattered, nothing. I felt lighter and far away. In that moment, I knew I was dying. My husband knew it too.
The room felt empty as if I were alone, not lonely, but alone. A prayer came to my lips. With the little awareness that was left, I breathed in and out the mantra, the name of God, and tried to be with the moment. Something in me wanted to stay conscious. It was difficult. In my heart I called my Teacher, his Teacher, and her Teacher’s Teacher, our spiritual lineage. I prayed that they helped me and stayed with me. I felt with God. I felt ready.
All the while, my husband desperately continued trying to help me get up and was wondering aloud how he could make me feel better. He brought me some water, wanted to call an ambulance, a doctor, anything. I just mumbled no. I had fought my way back into health every time sickness or illness had stricken me. This time was different. The pain did not upset me; neither did it anger me or make me afraid. There was no resistance in me, only acceptance.
A few minutes passed, maybe hours, maybe more. I do not know how or why but I did not leave. I am still here, very much alive. It took me several days to get better. I continue to feel tired easily.
A few days after my collapse, I remembered a dream I had the night before it occurred. In it, a man gave me a medicine that healed me. The dream did not seem important at the time and I had quickly forgotten about it. But once I recalled it, it made me wonder. What did it mean? Could it have been that this man’s medicine was what kept me alive? Or could this dream have been an announcement, a warning of what would happen that evening? Or did it point to something else I might find out in the future? Hard to know for sure…
Death did not want me after all, not yet. But I am glad she came. On our brief meeting, I learned from death something aging had not been able to teach me in all these years—surrender.
by Alex Warden