Love, Loss and Hope

Love, Loss and Hope
20th Anniversary Issue

 

The period between Thanksgiving, 1997, and the first two weeks of January 1998, carries bittersweet memories for me.  It was during that time that my former partner, Judi, transitioned from this life.  Ours was a special story.  It was a story of synchronicity, of a life changing and affirming relationship, of learning, healing, personal growth and a very profound love.

My first marriage ended because of diametrically opposed spiritual differences.  My path was expanding and inclusive, her path was contracting and exclusive.  It was 1995 and I was leading meditation and healing groups at the time and teaching Reiki.  At one of these gatherings, a friend mentioned a woman he knew who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and wanted to learn about visualization meditation and energy healing.  I called her and we arranged to meet on a Sunday morning.

I arrived at her house and as I was about to ring the bell, she opened the door.  As we looked at each other, she pointed at me and I pointed at her and we simultaneously exclaimed, “It’s you!”  We had never met in this lifetime but there was an absolute recognition of having traveled together before. Our relationship ensued, first with healing, teaching and a growing friendship and rapidly evolved into a passionate love.

We both came into the relationship with lessons to learn from one another.  She needed to learn that she was loved and worthy of that love; I needed to learn to love and believe in myself.  These lessons unfolded as we lived the extremes of life together in our mid-forties.  I was by her side as she went through chemotherapy and radiation treatments and she encouraged me to pursue the interfaith education and training that was necessary for the growth of my path.  She was a special education teacher, a surrogate “mom” beloved by teens from broken and difficult homes whose lives she helped to turn around.  She invited me to teach meditation and chanting to them which they hungrily and joyfully took to.  This partnership unfolded in this and so many other ways.

We traveled together to places that she loved.  She introduced me to Sedona and the Grand Canyon, a place that she considered her “Church on Earth.” We drove up to Acadia National Park in Maine and enjoyed the breathtaking view of the Atlantic from atop Acadia Mountain. Each of these trips was sacred, a pilgrimage to places she loved, and I resonated with on a soul level.

I mentioned that she encouraged me to pursue interfaith training.  In the 1990’s if you wanted to practice “hands on healing” in a hospital, you either needed to be a licensed massage therapist or ordained in a faith where “laying on of hands” was considered a sacrament.  As I had a full-time career, massage school was out of the question.  She introduced me to The New Seminary of New York, one of the first interfaith seminaries in the United States, founded by Rabbi Joseph Gelberman and a group of clergy representing almost every major religion.  It was a two-year part-time program for those who had established careers with a spiritual calling that would enhance their practice.  Judi and I enrolled together and began our interfaith journey, another life changing experience.

The following year, I noticed Judi, an extremely articulate woman, starting to malaprop.  She would speak words that did not make sense in the context of what she was saying and not realize it.  I began to sense something was seriously wrong and reached out to her oncologist. The doctor told me that she had “skipped” her six-month follow-up scan and urged me to bring her to the hospital.  I convinced Judi we need to see her doctor and took her to the hospital.  An MRI delivered the frightening diagnoses.  There was a tumor in the left side of her brain, near the center that controls speech. Surgery was scheduled and we were cautioned that she might lose her ability to speak.  I stood by her bedside while she was in recovery.  She opened her eyes, smiled at me and said, “Victor Fuhrman, I love you!”  My heart melted as I heard her speak.

Six months later, we went for a follow-up.  The scan showed that the cancer had spread to other parts of her body.  Doctors offered additional chemotherapy and other treatments but suggested the ultimate prognoses was not good and that ultimately, she would lose the fight.  I held her as she cried softly, and my tears mingled with hers.  She made the decision to live her remaining time with joy and dignity.

On November 16th, 1997, we graduated from the New Seminary and were ordained at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, in New York.  As president of our class, I gave the graduation speech and devoted a portion of it to honoring Judi, sharing how she had touched and changed the lives of so many young people and lauding her courage and dignity as she fought the battle of her life.  She sat there with our graduating class, smiling and crying at the same time.

The following week, we were preparing for Thanksgiving.  My mother and sister were joining us as well as several friends. I was in the kitchen cooking and Judi was showering.  She came out of the shower and joined me in the kitchen, beaming and smiling as she watched me prepare the food.  Suddenly her smile changed into blank expression.  Her eyes rolled back, and I realized she was having a seizure.  I ran to catch her before she collapsed and gently set her on the floor.  Her breathing was labored, and she lost consciousness as I called 911.  The EMT’s rushed her to the hospital where the doctors spoke the words that I was dreading but knew I would ultimately hear.  “She’s had a good run but now it’s time for hospice.”  I shuddered and cried, reaching out to our respective families and sharing the news.

I decided on home hospice, as I wanted her to be comfortable and in familiar surroundings.  The wonderful staff at Cabrini Hospice Center gave me a quick training on what would be needed and the supplies to set things up at home.  After the bed and other home equipment was in place, the ambulance brought her home from the hospital.  She was in and out of coma until the second week of December when she slipped into total coma.  The wonderful hospice home attendant was with her during the day and I was by her beside after work.  I learned to change the IV’s, maintain the oxygen and administer the morphine as instructed by the visiting nurse.  My nights on the floor next to her were spent listening to her breathing and perhaps a faint voice if she came out of coma.  I prayed and cried nightly.

On Christmas Day, I was washing her when she opened her eyes and asked what day it was.  I told her it was Christmas and she managed a smile and said, “Merry Christmas.”  She asked how long she had been unconscious, and I told her.  She asked if I was okay and I told her I was fine.  Then she said something that I did not expect.  She asked me to kill her.  I asked her if she was suffering or in pain and she said, “No.”  I asked her why she wanted me to end her life and she told me she did not want me to suffer.  Taking her hand in mine I told her I was not suffering, that I loved her and would do everything to keep her comfortable and that the final decision was up to her and God. She smiled softly, closed her eyes and slipped back into a coma.

On January 5th, the doctor came to the house and suggested from her breathing that her time was near.  He said that at this point in hospice, they would, at the family’s request, disconnect her IV glucose feeding.  He said the decision was up to me and her father.  After a brief discussion, he agreed with me it was time to let her go.  That evening, I prayed and asked her higher self for permission to disconnect the feeding.  As if an angel where whispering in my ear, I heard a soft but affirmative, “Yes.”  I kissed her gently on the forehead and disconnected the glucose.

On January 8th, I knew from her breathing that time was short and realized I needed a suit for the funeral.  I ran out to the clothing store and half-way there heard my inner voice say, “Turn around.”  When I got back to the house, the hospice worker said her breathing was very shallow.  Judi’s father joined me at her bedside and we each held her hand.  Within a few minutes, she was gone.

I co-officiated her funeral.  One of our friends and classmates sang “The Rose”, Judi’s favorite song.  I closed her eulogy with these lines from Khalil Gibran,

“And all knowledge is vain save when there is work, and all work is empty save when there is love; and when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.”

I closed by saying that Judi worked with love and is bound in our hearts forever.

Twenty-two years later and I share this for those who have lost loved ones and often feel the loss amplified by the holiday season.  My relationship with Judi was life changing.  She opened my heart to me and taught me how to love fully and unconditionally.  Her guidance and suggestion that I attend the New Seminary paved a road of future service and a path that allowed me to share the training and pastoral skills with others, including service as a Chaplain for the Red Cross after 9-11.

It also opened the door to finding new love, through synchronicity, to a woman who attended that graduation as she was coming into the seminary, was touched by the words I honored Judi with and found her way into my heart, bringing soul-mate love to me once again.

Our teacher and mentor, Rabbi Gelberman, always cited an ancient Hebrew expression, “HaKol Beseder.” Translated, it means “everything is in order” but Rabbi Gelberman took it one step further saying, “everything is unfolding in divine order.” He said we may not understand or like what is transpiring, but ultimately it is part of a higher plan.  In the context and immediacy of illness, suffering and loss, one might question acceptance of this idea. Extended beyond what is before us, “for those who have eyes to see,” there is a far reaching plan at work.

Blessings of this nature are there for those who are open to them and ready to receive them.
In the words of Ray Thomas of the Moody Blues,

“Just open your eyes and realize the way it’s always been
Just open your mind and you will find the way it’s always been
Just open your heart and that’s a start”

Copyright 2020 Victor Fuhrman. All Rights Reserved.

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