Keeping the End in Mind (By Michael Bischoff)
((This is from our good friend Michael Bischoff of the Health Story Collaborative. Michael is living with a brain tumor. He was gracious in taking the time to join us at our recent End in Mind Shakopee event))
Last week I had a brain surgery that confirmed a recurrence of aggressive brain cancer. When I was wheeled into the operating room, I took Bruce Kramer and Cathy Wurzer’s conversations about keeping the end in mind with me, choosing to see the surgery through that lens.
Bruce and Cathy’s conversations continue to teach me to look for the healing available, instead of just grasping for the version of healing I’m most focused on in the moment.
After I was first diagnosed with brain cancer, my wife read Bruce and Cathy’s book, We Know How This Ends: Living while Dying, out loud to me as I was doing chemo and radiation. The wisdom and vulnerability in their conversation was a life raft for me through my fear of imminent death.
Bruce shared a rare knowing and acceptance that he was dying, and, miraculously, conveyed peace and freedom from that place. Most of us, including me, don’t have as much clarity or acceptance about what we’re facing as Bruce did, but the longer I live with Bruce’s wisdom with the possibility of death in sight, the more convinced I am that his message applies to all of us, no matter how close to death we are.
On average, people with my diagnosis die about 18 months after diagnosis. Now that I’ve been alive for more than twice that long, I sometimes feel more distant from death, but many things, such as my surgery last week, help me to keep the end in mind. Bruce and Cathy help me see that keeping the end in mind can be a profound gift. One of my favorite things Bruce said to Cathy was, “Death is nothing more than a telescope. You point it up to the stars and they cease being fuzzy and they come into focus.”
As friends and health care providers walk with me, what I most long for are people to look up at the stars with me and to be amazed together. When the nurse in the post-surgery recovery room shared a feeling of awe with me that I could still move and talk, I felt that shared amazement. When my children squeezed my hands and cried with me after I found out about my recurrence, it also felt like we were on sacred ground together.
As I remembered Bruce and Cathy’s words as I was on the operating table, I was reminded that I believe that letting more love in, and expressing love are the foundation of healing. Shortly before he died, Bruce spoke of meeting “angelic people who are so wrapped in their own love.” I regularly experience Bruce as one of those people now, even though I didn’t know him before he died. One of my passions now is that we can all be Bruce and Cathy to each other–vulnerably expressing what is most true for us in the midst of great dis ease, as Bruce did–and listening with reverence and love as Cathy did for Bruce.
A mutual friend introduced Cathy and I earlier this year. I’m delighted to be collaborating with End in Mind, seeking to support all of us to be Bruce and Cathy for each other. I’d like to invite you to listen to and share stories of dis ease and healing in Shakopee on Jan. 12. You can find out more and register for free at: https://shakopee.eventbrite.com. We have an amazing combination of storytellers and facilitators lined up. I’m fully committed to being a part of the gathering myself, while knowing that healing and participation might look different for me than I currently imagine. I look forward to being amazed together with you.