When I faced the unknown—life or death during my surgery the next day—it was astounding how, having all of my family and friends around, I could feel their grief and fear as well as their love and support.
Everything in me wanted to make them feel safe and secure. I wanted to take their hurt and pain away, and I tried. I put on my cloak of positivity. I said all the right things, both for them and for me.
“It will be ok.”
“I am not going anywhere.”
“I will be there to see you graduate.”
“I will be there to see you get married and have kids.”
“I will be there holding your hand, growing old with you.”
I gave them all the positive thoughts I could. Looking back, I honestly do not know if I did this more to alleviate their fears or to minimize mine. Maybe it was a little of both.
The one thing I know for sure is that the night before my cardiac bypass surgery, even with everyone around me, I felt more alone than I had ever felt in my life. The realization that I might not be there for graduations, marriages, grandkids…that I might not be there to love and encourage my husband, kids and family—the heartbreak of that was the hardest thing for me to face.
My family, and especially my kids, has always been my whole life. The thought of not being there for them was the deepest grief I have ever felt. Did I prepare my family enough to survive without me? If not, there was no more time to do anything else, no more time to be a parent, to give motherly advice or simply to be there for them.
Alongside all of the grief was the most abysmal fear I have ever felt in my life. I was facing the fact that I might not make it through surgery and the realization that no one could hold my hand and go with me…no one could take that fear away. No one could undergo this surgery but me. I would either see the light and move on or I would survive. I understood that I was truly alone with death, with all the uncertainty of what death entails.
Being alone was scary enough, but I was also suddenly dealing with my own questions regarding mortality. What if death was all there was? What if there was nothing on the other side? There was the idea of leaving and just being finished; what would that be like? What was my life worth? Was there life on the other side? Would both of my grandfathers meet me there? Questions upon questions swarmed in my mind.
In this experience, I realized for the first time in my life that I was alone. No one else could feel these emotions with me, no one could make it better and no one could hold my hand on this final journey. I now understand that until we each face this situation, we do not really know how we will walk through it or how it will affect us.
At that moment I was questioning everything I believed, yet desperately wanting to hold onto something. So I grasped onto the love that my family had for me, and the deep love I had for them. I had to believe that that would keep me here, alive, and that it would help me to survive the surgery. This was the only way I was able to get through that night and prepare for surgery the next morning.
I did survive, but narrowly. The doctors told my family they had three more things they could try, and the third one worked, although it was still touch and go the first couple of days after the surgery.
But, I did survive.
I realize now how that one precise day affected not only my gratitude for my family, friends, life and love but also my outlook on my future.
I realized that only I, alone, could walk that path with death. Through this revelation I also realized that no one can truly walk this amazing journey of life but me.
The gift my family gave me during this experience was love, the love that I embraced as life itself in order to survive. This love gave me a new experience. It was so unconditional—they only wanted me to live…they did not expect anything in return. They only wanted me: their mom, wife, daughter, sister, aunt and friend. They only wanted me, not for what I did or did not do, but just to be here and share in this life with them.
For the first time in my life I understood that I do not have to do anything out of guilt or responsibility. I have the choice to live my life out of full vibrancy. That freedom alone creates so much love within me and also allows me so much more love to share.
I am now riding the waves of life, learning to passionately love, and to create and change paths; it is my map of life that I am designing. Only through facing death could I clearly see the true gift that life has to offer, which is love. Out of that love comes our innate opportunity to choreograph our dance with life, love and other living souls.
We are not victims of life; we are the creators and designers of our existence.
Debbie Golightly is an open heart surgery survivor. Share in her journey as she overcomes the challenges in her life and transforms them into triumphs. Let her walk with you on your journey as your advocate, cheerleader and encourager. Visit http://survivingheartsurgery.com and read her story of survival, and also visit her blog and join her journey.
Editor: Jayleigh Lewis