I made some decisions today. I am letting go of the outcome of this illness. My clear intention is to live – a lot longer than 3-6 years. But if this disease is the prelude to my death then I am going to LIVE every minute of it. I believe my life is about living. I have always loved life and lived life fully and I am not going to stop now.
My first big experience with death occurred when I was only a small child. My great grandpa was laid out in a beautiful coffin in my grandma’s home, as was often the custom in the rural community where they lived. The house was hot and people were crammed into the space all wishing to pay their respects to my great grandma (the widow) and other family members. I remember lots of nice cookies and punch and treats on every table.
I remember seeing my mother and her sisters and my mother’s mother (my grandma) crying in the kitchen. I marched up to the coffin (no one interfered) and looked at the beloved face of my grandpa. This was the grandpa that used to put the smaller grandchildren on his shoulders; the grandpa that walked us to “Ken’s Market” and bought us all a root beer or banana Popsicle; the grandpa who in his later years would have us lead him on walks when he became blind with cataracts. He was the kindest, sweetest old gentlemen that ever lived. As I looked at him I could swear his chest was moving up and down. He was breathing! I rushed to the kitchen and excitedly announced to the relatives and the guest not to fear, that he was breathing again! My mother looked shocked and gently pulled me aside and told me he was not breathing, but I insisted and the more I insisted the more she insisted. Someone called for one of the older cousins to take me outside. I allowed the truth of what my mother said to soak in and realized my grandpa was really gone. I felt grief. It was shocking to me that I would never have his companionship again.
My next close experience with death was in junior high school when my 17 year old cousin suddenly passed away from a brain infection. I saw him on Monday night at a church youth activity. We sneaked away and ran across the street to the liquor store to buy gum, and then we ran back to the church. No one missed us and it felt like quite the escapade. He had a headache that night. By Sunday he was gone. He didn’t look like himself in the coffin. He looked swollen and his head was in a white bandage and I cried a million tears for him.
But nothing compares to August 25, 1977. I and my young F.B.I. agent husband, Mark Kirkland, had bought an old farmhouse in Minnetonka, Minnesota that we were constantly refurbishing. It was a wonderful old salt box colonial house (110 years old) and we loved it. We painted it colonial blue with crisp white trim. We restored the stained glass windows and had uncovered and refinished the oak floors. It was a wonderful home.
On that day, I had been feeling uneasy all afternoon and didn’t know why. I put our babies to bed and thoroughly cleaned the house. Our oldest son would be three in a few months and the baby was about one year old. I was 25 years old and my husband was 33.
My husband was the lead agent on an important case and was away because he was involved in a surveillance operation employing the use of another agent’s small private aircraft. He had been gone a few days but was expected back in a day or two. To stay in touch we would call each other at night when he and his team were settled in their hotel rooms. If I needed to talk to him I would call the local F.B.I. office and they would “patch” me to him. On this night he failed to call me and I started to worry. I called the F.B.I. and identified myself and asked the operator if she could patch me through to my husband’s hotel room. She seemed frozen and flustered and muttered something about the team wasn’t in their rooms yet. I had to accept this but my heart was pounding and I knew something was wrong. I waited one more hour and called again. This time an agent answered the line and tried to sound more convincing. I hung up again but began to panic.
I lay in bed. It was late and I knew my life was about to fall apart. I picked up the phone again and called the office. The same agent answered. He had to have heard the panic in my voice and I was very assertive. I said I wanted to know where my husband was and how he was. The agent was soft spoken and kind and said someone would be getting in touch with me shortly. He didn’t tell me anything, yet he told me everything I needed to know.
I heard the cars roll up on our gravel driveway. I sat down on the top step on our stairs and heard them knocking on the front door. I just couldn’t bring myself to answer it. I kept telling myself this couldn’t be happening to me. I heard one of the agents talk about breaking into the house through a window and I forced myself to turn on the upstairs hall light before descending the stairs – hanging on to the antique railing for dear life.
I opened the door and stared into the ashen, familiar faces of dear friends and other agents and their wives. The verbal exchange was brief. I said something like “Is he OK?” John Shimoto a good friend and also an F.B.I. agent said “Sit down, Honey”, but I didn’t want to sit down. So, I said it first “Is he gone?” John responded with “There’s been an accident.” I asked again if Mark was OK, to which John answered “No honey, Mark and Tren are both gone.”
My beautiful, caring young husband, father and civil servant was gone. I said over and over out loud “It can’t be true.” But it was true
It’s amazing how much I remember about the days that followed considering the pain and trauma I felt. But in the midst of this exquisite anguish I also experienced a great peace and calm. It would take me by surprise when I would have these moments from time to time where I would be flooded with insight and wisdom and a warm sense of being loved. It was a huge love. It would carry me through many difficult moments.
A few years later I opened my front door to an insurance salesman named Monty Andrus, and my heart skipped a beat. I didn’t think I would ever fall in love again. My dad had recently said to me that there was no shortage of love in this universe and that there was plenty of love to go around and I should think about loving again. He said I had too much to give and too much life to live to be thinking I had done it all at my young age. So I had just decided that maybe I would date earnestly and see if I could get on with the dreams of my life.
I did get on with the dreams of my life. I did fall in love again and marry and gave birth to a daughter. I have had a wonderful life even though I have done some hard things. All in all I have loved every minute of my life.
These experiences have taught me something very important about life.
1. From the moment we take our first breath we begin living and dying.
2. We are all going to die. I never did think I was getting off this planet alive ( not even the Big Guy did that)
3. Life is about living not dying. Dying is really none of our business (a line I borrowed from my life coach, Paige – but it’s the truth!)
4. I want to be fully present and awake for my life and live every minute to the fullest.
I have decided to put all my energies into living and healing from this disease. If God and the universe are willing, so am I. I am not going to think about dying or be afraid any more. I am going to show up as fully as I can for my life, whatever direction it takes.
I am going to learn all I can about this disease and I am going to do more than survive.
I hate the word “survivor”. It implies a battering. I am going to do more than that…I am going to transcend cancer. It is not going to hurt my life, and I am not going to just “survive it”. I am going to be bigger than this disease and overcome every spiritual, emotional and intellectual hurdle until I am at peace with my own life and destiny. To transcend something is to go beyond it and see with inspired eyes. This is my goal – to transcend cancer
© 2007 Julia Andrus