(Thank you for your patience with my eighteen month hiatus in posting on my blog. As I mentioned, I have been working on a book and the good news is that I recently signed up with an agent in London, England, with the hope of getting published in the not too distant future. Needless to say, I am thrilled.)
Sheridan was twenty-nine years old when she was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Before then, she was like most other young women in their late twenties, her career was in full swing, she was in a serious relationship, she loved sports, and she spent as much time as she could with her family and her large group of friends.
I met Sheridan on the first day of her weeklong Callanish retreat. Along with seven other young adults in their twenties and thirties, she had decided to face her fears. Sitting across from Sheridan at dinner the first night, I could hear her rapid raspy breathing and see her neck muscles working hard to inflate her lungs. What was also noticeable and rather surprising was her laughter, and a light in her eyes that insisted life was rightfully hers, in spite of the condition of her body.
Sheridan had asked for a ground floor bedroom because of the effort it took to climb stairs, and the only available room was a few minutes walk from the main lodge, in a separate cabin. I was concerned about her being alone at night but she reassured me that she was a nurse, and promised to call our retreat doctor, Daphne, if she needed help. Her independence was a force to reckon with. Over-caregiving by me, or any of the team members would only disempower her autonomy. My responsibility for her well-being danced delicately with my desire to respect her as the mistress of her own fate, a dance I was familiar with from taking many ill people away on retreat, thirty minutes from the nearest hospital.
Each day, I noticed that Sheridan was struggling more with her breathing. Daphne helped manage her breathlessness with medications and each night we talked with her about the looming reality of her needing to go to hospital for oxygen.
“Absolutely not,” Sheridan said each night. “I’d be in a hospital bed doing nothing except having to deal with peoples’ pity. Here I am healing and strengthening my heart and spirit for the ultimate journey.” Though weaker in body, Sheridan was visibly stronger in spirit. She emanated happiness among her new friends. They even persuaded her to drive the electric cart so they could explore the twelve acre property together.
During the group check-in on the fourth morning of retreat, Sheridan told us about a dream she had had the previous night. In the dream she coughed and coughed and couldn’t catch her breath. She was terrified she would die coughing when the bedroom door opened and in walked her seven retreat friends. They quietly and calmly surrounded her bed and sang to her while one person massaged her feet and another stroked her forehead. Her coughing eventually stopped and her breathing calmed enough for her to fall asleep.
“You were all in my dream, my angels,” Sheridan told the group. “Thank you.”
The following evening, an hour or so after Sheridan had gone to bed, the group decided, unbeknownst to her, to re-enact her dream for real. They knocked gently on her door and then moved in like a murmuration, quietly encircling her bed. They sang and soothed and massaged Sheridan, just as she had described in her dream, until she fell asleep.
A few days after the retreat, Sheridan was admitted to hospital and died within a week. She had surely been the mistress of her fate that last week of her life. She knew what she needed before she died, a community of loving fearless friends who saw her as whole regardless of the ravages of cancer, angels who were willing to answer her call for comfort from the dream world.