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I can’t do this anymore! I admitted to myself, gripping my cane. Like stricken puppies, my legs, refused to move, despite my commanding them to do so. I was beached, immobile, furious, a storm crashing within me.

I had already checked into the YMCA, was sucking a lemon cough drip, and was standing at my usual start position by the entrance. Ahead of me stretched the wide corridor; its recessed lighting reflecting upon the floor had helped me maintain balance the four months I’d been coming here. My helper waited for me to begin my customary walk toward the gym and the exercise room, her shadowing each step lest I fall.

That was three days ago, an experience that left me floundering in self-pity, one of the faces of grief.

It’s all about acceptance: my terminal illness has taken another hit—and there have been many—but not as pronounced as this one: Weakness like I’ve never experienced, shortness of breath that worsens speech production, and muscle loss that rouses issues of disease gnawing away at my body, despite still eating full meals prepared by helpers or brought by friends.

Yes, there’s change. Rather than use my cane, I rely upon my wheeled walker to get about—It’s slower but still works. Happily, I’m still able to blog the ongoing experience of my terminal illness, and if appropriate, I will return to the Y’s NuStep and exercise my legs—not to walk as before, of course, but to keep going, one day at a time with Precious God’s help. Besides, I’ve friends there.

“Hi, Liz! It’s Alice. Come to check on you again—Finish your nebulizer first, though.” Her voice fills my home with morning’s brightness as she settles around my dining room table, its center resplendent with red-fringed yellow tulips. Tapered fingers unzip her case and whip out her computer, notepad, and pen as I finish my breathing treatment and adjust the nasal prongs of my oxygen.

“Good to see you again, Alice,” I say, supporting my steps with my cane and sitting opposite her. On the table was therapy putty for my hands lest my terminal illness further weaken them, and a glass of water to loosen mucus from another lung disease, prior to coughing it up in an emesis basin. “Not much new to report. My weakness, shortness of breath, and speech worsen, but imperceptibly so. Certainly, I’m not where I was one month ago, but I still get by with my helpers—Even take short walks in the sun. Still keep up my deep breathing and stretching exercises.”

Her dark eyes warm me, despite the put-off of her black mask as she takes my vital signs: all normal—they always are.

“Seems like I’m really into my old age. I never dreamed it would look like this. Often atop my bed, I pray, stillness enfolding my body and psyche; at others, grief for my intransigent stuff seeping into global darkness like raw sewerage. Here is where the mantra, ”Mercy!” comes in, cried with vehemence.” She leans toward me and listens, not wanting to miss a word. 

“Yet, each day, there’s something new to learn. Yesterday’s was critical: stop seeking answers where there are none, a waste of vital energy.” She nods and with her eyes hugs me before leaving.

At 6 AM., I awoke with this dream:

I’m alone, content. I put my whole heart into singing lullabies until I no longer recall the next verse. Then, I recite nursery rhymes that I remember; their melodies and rhythms and repetitions tinkle, within, like my neighbor’s wind chimes.

A soothing dream, its story is unlike any I’ve experienced. I appear well, having sufficient breath to support both singing and reciting; their rhythms and repetitions lighten and enlarge my world. My bloodshot eyes smile, unlike my usual glum look when alone.

Within my psyche exists a caregiver, intent upon helping me befriend my terminally ill body and relax into each moment, despite death’s shortening them—A unique time in my life, I can only do this once.

But there was a time when I had belted out “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” marveling how the nursery rhyme echoed off the walls of my study. My Pilates coach recommended this practice to increase the stamina and volume in my speech. It worked for a while until, too fatigued, I stopped. 

However, the gift of this morning’s dream implanted these nurturing ditties within my unconscious and reminds to pull one of them out whenever overwhelmed—Like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” reminding me to gently pull for my body needs and access Higher Power’s grace for the next challenge. After all, it’s only a stream…

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