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“We can make it. We are going to make it!” so pressed John Lynch as he and Franka Berger struggled against insupportable odds toward freedom—both were in dire straits. Their attitude served as a leitmotif throughout Eoin Dempsey’s novel White Rose Black Forest (2018) and resonated within my practice of the 12 Steps as understood in Chronic Pain Anonymous.

The We is significant; it suggests the components of the CPA’s spiritual fellowship: solidarity, like-mindedness, willingness, honesty, and humility, in union with Higher Power’s presence. From my first phone meeting in September 2017, I’ve felt understood and supported, moving through seven hospitalizations until opting for hospice’s palliative care last November. No longer am I alone with the burden of failing lungs and other evidence of aging.

Experience of the We also occurs during daily 12-Step work with my sponsor and others suffering with chronic pain and illness. No one tires listening to symptoms and their accompanying emotional pain. No one remains stuck.

The way out requires action: can make; are going to make. Here, open-mindedness and willingness prod the overwhelmed toward a different scenario. Thanks to working Steps I, II, and III, stony attitudes begin to splinter. A bigger picture of our flawed but graced humanness emerges. We are much more than our pain or illness. Breathing becomes more normal.

And then comes it. In CPA, emotional sobriety is critical to recovering what’s left of our lives. With the rest of the 12 Steps, we relax within our limits and participate. Slips do occur but help is a phone call away; within such dialogs, Higher Power manifests. So we give thanks for another twenty-four-hour day, as did Franka and John when they made it.

 

 

Midnight—my neighborhood, bone-quiet. Yet, strident voices in my psyche rouse me from deep sleep, prodding me to get a snack. I am hungry, not having eaten sufficiently during the day. Work on the Memorial Mass had consumed me: My emotions ran high selecting suitable hymns from the St. Louis Jesuits that had inspired years of prayer at The College Church.

Four hours later, the same voices pull me from sleep, prod me to sit at my word processor, and write. It is dark, chilly in my study, the whir of the concentrator in the next room. Recall of the accompanying dream story could have specified the disorder—It must be about listening.

Three hours later, I awake to another dream: It is quiet. Outside my window crews of workmen have removed centuries-old oak trees and excavated deep holes in the ground for new foundations.

 More work still to be done—more trust and surrender to the Contractor’s plan. Again, I clamber onto the path and start out.

 

 

I completed the first read of Kathleen Dowling Singh’s The Grace in Dying—How We Are Transformed Spiritually as We Die (1998) and was touched by the Latin treatise Ars Moriendi (The Art of Dying) that she references.

Sixty years of horrific deaths caused by the Black Death in Europe led an anonymous Dominican friar to compose this treatise, the long form in 1410 and the short one in 1450. It offered a template within which to view the “the five attacks of the devil,” integral to the dying process. As harsh as this process was, its outcome was deemed good, safe. Loved ones also received instruction on caring for the dying, together with suitable prayers for their transition. The 1450 treatise also contained twelve woodcuts, easily committed to memory by the illiterate.

Dr. Singh posits a psychological dimension to these “five attacks,” articulated in the Chaos phase: the self’s scouring the mental ego of malignancies buried within the psyche. Her corresponding templates enlarge those of the medieval monk’s: Belief/impatience and irritability; Social Contract/greed and avarice; Ego Sant/pride; Philosopher Charlatan/ moroseness; Disillusionment/desperation and agonizing qualms of consciousness. Never have I seen such purification that bespeaks the mystery of our humanness and ultimate destiny. We are are in good hands.

Dr. Singh also affirms the safety in dying and concludes, “In splendor and peace, we remerge with the luminous Ground of Being from which we once emerged.”

 

 

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