By Kay Costley-White
The most joyful person I have ever met was a young man dying of AIDS. Chris’s path to serenity had been long and difficult. In
the early 1990s, his family, afraid of their community’s reaction to
his gay lifestyle, rejected him. He moved from central Canada to
Vancouver, developed a family of choice, and lived with a partner
committed to a life-long relationship. But his partner and many of his
friends died of AIDS. Then his place of employment found out the reason
for his many absences for sick leave, and he was fired on the spot.
Later, life-threatening infections kept him in hospital, too weak to
care for himself. When I knew him, he understood that there was no hope
for a cure or prolongation of his life. Medicine could do nothing
beyond keeping him comfortable, and he was facing his imminent death. But
the healing of who he was as a person—his mind, emotions and
spirit—induced people to visit his room to get a taste of his radiance.
How could someone with such losses possibly be joyful?
How had Chris got to this place of profound personal healing in the
face of death? Did he have some strong religious faith to sustain him
through his dark hours? It appeared that he had opened to the
anguish that can be a part of living, totally surrendered to his
personal chaos, and eventually emerged beyond its confines. Witnesses
to such a deep process are often left with healing of their own, a sort
of ripple effect that produces a feeling of abundance in loved ones and
professional caregivers alike. You may ask, “What does this
have to do with me—I’m still healthy and active?” While most people
don’t aspire to the transcendence Chris demonstrated, we can all
prepare ourselves to face our dying. We can explore our fear,
participate in therapies to help us face the horror of final goodbyes,
and find technologies to help us reach forgiveness. Employing these
strategies requires courage and a certain tolerance for the unknown.
But the process releases energy, and we may find that the degree of our
readiness for death is directly related to the quality of our lives now. Chris
showed us that opening to the full meaning of dying can enrich our
experience of living. In demonstrating joy, serenity and gratitude in
the face of death, he was an inspiration to the humanity in each of us,
a source of hope for the growth of the human spirit.