Madina: Being all that you can be

   On the day that I met Madina, she had laid down to die.  My friend Yasha and I went to her house in response to an email message that he received from Madina's husband, notifying friends that Madina's cancer condition had taken a turn for the worse, and she was bedridden, very weak and quiet, and it may be near the end.  He ended his message with the invitation: Miracles are welcome.  Yasha called me and said, let's go see Madina!

   Madina was lying in her bed, surrounded by a half-dozen friends who were chanting.  She was very still and quiet, clearly in pain but at the same time very peaceful.  She didn't speak; she could only mouth words, and did that very little.  She seemed to be barely in her body; it looked like she was already embarked on her passing.  Yasha and I joined the circle and chanted, then later sat with Madina and put our hands on her and poured love into her body.  She looked at me, smiled weakly, and mouthed "thank you."  I was struck by how serene she was in the midst of pain.   It felt like sitting with a bodhisattva.

   So when Yasha called a couple of weeks later and said he'd received another email, and Madina was recovering, I said, let's go see Madina!  This time, she was sitting outside on her patio, still rather weak, but fully in her personality, talkative, and relatively pain-free.  She told us that after months of suffering -- having flunked out of the oncology system and been sent home to die -- she had laid down to die, but her friends filled her with love like she had never known.  So she decided this might be worth sticking around for, and began to recover her strength.  We chatted for a couple of hours; it was interesting to get to know a woman whom I had only met before on her "deathbed."  I liked her and intended to see her again.

   So when Yasha called a couple of days later and said that Madina was in pain again, I said, let's go see Madina!  This time we found her disspirited.  She still held some hope of recovering her health, but she knew that if she continued taking morphine for pain, she would be in a stupor that would sap her will and she wouldn't have a chance of survival.  Madina had tumors in her abdomen, causing frequent pain and nausea.  Yasha and I offered our hands as pain medicine, and Madina was grateful and responsive.  With Madina lying in her most comfortable position, I held her abdomen in my hands and comforted her belly just as I would a baby in distress.  This contact helped provide pain relief.  I had just canceled a trip that I was planning to make, so my schedule in the following weeks was suddenly free.   So Yasha and I offered to spend as much time as we could to use our hands to relieve her pain, and to serve in any other ways we could.

   During the next several weeks, Madina's pain and nausea continued to be severe on a daily basis.  Hospice was providing support in the form of medicine, consultation, social workers, physical therapist, chaplain.  Madina also had various friends who stopped by occasionally, some of whom are healing practitioners of various sorts.  Her husband was her round-the-clock caretaker, and had little consistent support.  Yasha and I provided as much support as we could with our presence.  I had a lot of time availability, and Madina invited me to move in, more or less, so I was able to be there much of the time, to fill in whenever her husband needed help, and to maintain a vigil for Madina.  Yasha came nearly every day and provided similar support: presence, hands-on healing, angelic love.

   Madina passed away about two months after the time of our first meeting.  Although she knew that there was a very good chance she would not survive, she had continued hoping for a miracle... until one day when she asked her husband to bring her a mirror.  She had difficulty walking and used a portable commode in her bedroom, so she hadn't been in the bathroom and seen herself in a mirror for several weeks.  She held the mirror and looked at her face, and remarked, this is not the face of a recovering person, it is the face of a dying person.  She saw in her face that she definitely was beyond the point of no return.  That day, she told everyone that she was dying, and began to thank her friends and give away special things.  The following day, she said a long goodbye to me.  I knew it would be the last time we would speak.  One day later, she was in a coma, and remained so until she passed a few days later.

   I spent nearly two months with Madina in very quiet intensity.  Because I only knew her during the last two months of her life, I never knew the Madina that others knew before she got sick.  The Madina I knew was focused on her spiritual journey, facing the greatest uncertainty every day.  I held her belly and witnessed her struggle.  I admired her strength and willpower.  Madina told me: my life is so limited now, I live in my bed and struggle with pain, but I'm doing the best job I've ever done at being all that I can be.  Madina inspired me to try to match her, to be all that I can be in my life too, even in the best of times.