Reminders of Impermanence
By Christy Moe Marek
“I’m in an ambulance on my way to the hospital,” my husband told me as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes.
“Wait. You’re what?” was all I could think of to say.
It was almost 2:00am as I lay in a single bed in the guest room at my dad’s house in Florida, where I had just arrived 6 hours earlier.
“I’m sure I’m fine,” he continued casually, “but when I went to bed, the indigestion I’ve had lately felt worse. My elbow felt like it was in a vise. Something in me knew it wasn’t right, so I went to the hospital.”
I could hardly string two thoughts together, much less say them. He was talking with me on the phone, so clearly he was fine.
“They don’t have a cardiac unit at our hospital,” he explained, “so they’re taking me to Southdale. Don’t make any plans to fly home yet until we know what’s going on.”
Cardiac, what? Plans to fly home? But I just got here…
Nothing made sense.
The wail of the siren echoed in the background. We hung up with the promise that he’d keep me posted. And then things got very quiet.
I looked up possible flights to fill time. I called the airlines to see what my options were. A half-hour went by and the discomfort of not knowing mounted. I texted him.
Panic found its opportunity and began to surface.
I noticed my heart racing and the tears that came readily as I got still. I swore in frustration. I heard the unsubstantiated stories ignited in my imagination catastrophizing the unknown, and felt them catch like wildfire on a hot summer wind.
I did my best to attach to none of it, and to breathe it all through.
“I see you,” I said to my tears. “I feel you,” I said to my heart. “I understand you,” I said to my belly, clenched in apprehension and fear.
“Whatever this is,” I thought, “everything in this moment is OK.” Sitting on the edge of the bed. My bare feet on the cool, hard floor. My breath moving in and moving out.
I searched more flights. I concocted a travel plan that could be executed at any moment, need be. Another half-hour passed.
This time, I called.
“Hello, Mrs. Marek,” a female voice answered my husband’s phone. “Let me get the doctor for you.”
The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I took a deep breath and held it, letting it go; slowly.
The doctor began telling me how my husband had been rushed from the ambulance into the Cath Lab, how they inserted two stents that restored blood flow to significantly blocked arteries, and that they were just finishing up. “A success,” I heard him saying before the line went dead.
My heart and mind were reeling.
Armed with information, I snapped into action. I called my people and got someone to the hospital. I booked a flight home and then tried to rest as best I could in the dark of a coastal Florida night, sending love and healing to my husband 1,500 miles away. Until I could hear his voice for myself, until I could get home to wrap my arms around him and know viscerally that all was well, I could only do what I could do.
I stopped. I breathed. I gave thanks.
Now a few weeks distant, I am reflecting on how reminders of our impermanence are everywhere. With birth and death as bookends, life in all of its expressions and experiences defines the expanse in between, and our breath itself is the through-line, our connection, our grounding.
Like the wind, it is everywhere and is both our animating force and the mirror that reflects it back to us. Regardless if we are experiencing wild winds, calm breezes, or sweet stillness, we can trust that we know how to weather them all.
Did I recall any of this as I swam in the current of those unimaginable hours? Not consciously. But when I reflexively came up for air, I was flooded with the sacred remembering that my breath would support and sustain me, if I let it.
We are impermanent. Birth and death happen in a never-ending cycle that is as natural as the blue sky and the clouds that sometimes obscure it. And our breath – our very life – is the thread that leads us through it all. Even when we fear it is all falling apart.
Christy Moe Marek was first called to work with the dying more than 25 years ago as a new college graduate. She wasn’t sure what to do with a call so deep, so she held it close until the time felt right to move forward. In 2013, that time arrived, and she hasn’t looked back since. Christy is a certified End of Life Doula, Anamcara End of Life Practitioner, writer, avid outdoor meditator, and compassionate advocate for intentional living while dying. She is devoted to walking alongside those facing terminal illness and their loved ones, inviting them into creative engagement with this inevitable aspect of every life. Find out more at tendinglife.com