Earlier this year, I stood in front of a large crowd of people to speak. This was not like any other time I have ever spoken before. This was not a speaking engagement, a group workshop or a seminar. This was to address the grieving family and friends of one of the bravest and nicest person I have ever known. Mandy was 49 years old and lost her battle with cancer. It is a day that I will never forget.
Looking out into the eyes of the hundreds of people who gathered for Mandy’s Life Celebration and seeing the outpouring of love coupled with pain, was something I never imagined I would ever experience.
I am used to speaking in public. I have been doing it for over 30 years. Mostly I speak without notes except for a few key words to remind me of a point I want to make. I always have so much to say and not enough time to say it in. But on this day, I knew that I needed to write out every word I would utter because I felt certain that I would not be able to control my emotions enough to speak legibly and clearly. So I read out the eulogy I had written for my friend.
I had walked an illness-ridden road with Mandy over the previous 11 months since she was diagnosed with cancer. Some days we laughed and some days we cried but I never left her without being in awe of the lessons I was learning and the changes I was making because of the time I was spending with her.
I was her coach and her counsellor but above all that I was her friend. She often asked me difficult questions that bothered her and to which I had no answer. It is not my place as a life coach to give advice or to give my clients answers, but to help them to go “inside” themselves to find the answer. Mandy’s questions about life and death were raw and real, and as I encouraged her to find her own answers, I was questioning the same things myself.
“What if I don’t heal from this disease?” is a question that, at the time, had no answer.
It became so clear to me that there are just some things that no matter how hard we try, or surrender to; there just is no answer to some questions and we simply have to accept.
Acceptance became Mandy’s theme for the last few weeks of her life. She never fully accepted her disease but she did surrender to it. Surrender was a place that Mandy found in the spaces between pain and no pain and between thinking and just being – in the gaps between the constant stream of visitors and trips to the hospital for treatments – that is where peace resides – in the gaps.
Although Mandy never really accepted her illness, she came to a much deeper place – acceptance of others. Mandy was all about selfless service and love and when she finally passed, on Easter Sunday, her husband gave me a flash disk that she wanted me to have where she had recorded her last wishes. Mandy wanted a Celebration of her life and not a funeral.
Hundreds of people gathered to honour this beautiful spirit and I had been given the hardest job I had ever had to do – to hold the space for the hundreds that gathered and give them something to leave with. Mandy had made it so easy. We played the songs she requested. Read the poems she loved. Sang the songs she wanted and listened to outpourings of love from those she had so deeply touched with the loving acceptance that she claimed for her life.
Moments of emotion did overcome me but what became evident during the time I spent in the front of the beautiful space that her family created, was that I was not in control. A strength and courageousness had overtaken me and I fulfilled every one of Mandy’s wishes, during her Celebration of Life, because that is what she asked me to do.
I always try to fulfil my promises but what I really learned was that even though it was really hard and painful and even though it was not something I ever wanted to do, surrendering to something bigger than me, allowed me to perform the hardest job I have ever had to do and to fulfil a promise to an amazing and beautiful friend.
Yes, we celebrated Mandy’s life that day, but in the days that have followed there has been crying and sadness and grieving and that’s ok – because we must!
Thank you Mandy for honouring me with this task – you came to me looking to resolve some things in your life because you had the wisdom and the courage to do that. What you didn’t realize is that you gave me so much more than I could ever have given you – I felt privileged and blessed to look out into the loving eyes of the people who came to honour you and now I understand why – it was because you simply accepted me.