I didn’t realize we were going to that hospital until I arrived at 8:15am to pick up my sister-in-law.
“Yes, Children’s, that’s the one. You know the way?” She said.
“Yup. Got it.”
Now was not the time to remind her how I could probably drive there blindfolded. How two years ago that hospital had been my family’s unfortunate second home while my teenage daughter faced a surprising cancer diagnosis.
My sister-in-law just turned 20 weeks pregnant with her second child. Yesterday, within minutes of discovering her baby was a girl, she was also told she needed a procedure to stay pregnant. Immediately.
And so, since my brother was unavoidably away, since I’m the former birth doula and resident healer in the family, and most importantly, since I love this woman, I offered to take her for the procedure.
As we drove, I talked myself off the ledge.
It’s not like this was the first time I’d been back to this hospital. We’d been going there for follow-up visits over the past 18 months my daughter had been in remission. Today was not about me. As I automatically located the parking spot least likely to be ticketed, I followed my sister-in-law’s steady stream of conversation. Inside her bravery, I sensed she was straddling shock and fear.
Something clicked into place. No, today was not about me at all.
By the time I guided us to the fastest elevator to the third floor, I’d found my center. The memories didn’t stop but somehow they shifted to the side, becoming a series of moving pictures. I resolved to hold my focus and practice letting them run through me, unattached.
At the front desk, I silently recognized the nurse who wore a facemask because she didn’t believe in getting flu shots. I smiled at my sister-in-law as we marveled about the purple hospital gowns that came with special heating devices, not mentioning why I already knew how they worked.
My sister-in-law and I spent hours deep in café-like conversation while waiting for her surgery to begin. We delved into our mutual writing lives, comparing her journey with fiction to my practical spirituality self-help.
We dished our men and commiserated over crazy family dynamics. We reminisced about her son’s birth almost two years ago, inviting her past strength into this moment.
Holding my focus required awareness. I breathed a sigh of relief when we were led past the first waiting room. The one where the doctor had informed my then 15 year-old daughter about every possible side effect of chemotherapy 15 minutes before her surgery. My fierce mama self had tried to intervene, “Hold on, stop talking. Do we have to have this conversation right now?” But like the screech of brakes slamming to avoid a collision already in motion, there was no going back. Clearly, some memories stick more than others.
After my sister-in-law left for the procedure, after purchasing the best chicken soup on the block, I entered the general waiting room. The memories kept running—that green chair, the surgeon’s kind hands, my husband in scrubs—until my heart began a familiar burning. On the inside, I started talking to my body, to God, Goddess, whatever powers that be, “Really? Does this have to be another trauma? Can’t I just be here now?”
It’s not like I’d been in denial. Since my daughter’s diagnosis, my intention has been to receive the rise and fall of each wave of grief as an opportunity to heal while stretching my capacity to hold the unimaginable. So we could become bigger than cancer’s impact on our lives.
Breathing into that bigness now began to soothe my hot heart. Suddenly, the memories widened from a steady stream of pain to include beautiful moments. Cuddling in the dark with my normally resistant teenage daughter. Watching my girl instinctively receive the tender strength of her Papa, my husband, as a testament to his shining soul. How, in the last hour of her final round of chemo, my daughter insisted on sitting up and eating the same chicken soup I had just bought to nourish my sister-in-law.
Wholeness had entered the hospital waiting room. Locating a great chicken soup, providing steady love during crazy times, and learning how to practice choice when riding the edge of inner pain was some of what I’d grown from losing my innocence to cancer.
With that realization, my body began vibrating a message from inside, “This is how you make good medicine from your journey. This is how you make good medicine from your journey. This is how you make good medicine from your journey.”
Then, as I bathed in the blessing of these words, this healing balm, I heard, “This is how you are making good medicine from your journey. Don’t stop. Keep going, child. Keep going.”
It’s been a couple of months since my sister-in-law’s surgery, and thankfully my future niece is developing peacefully. During that time, I’ve supported people facing anxiety, loss, and health issues as well as new relationships and work opportunities. In all honesty, when it comes to showing up, I’m not afraid of intense.
In fact, I like intense.
And yet, since that day in the waiting room, when I stumble upon a surprising edge of inner pain, I’m grateful to receive it with a new blessed reverberation inside: This is how you’re making good medicine from your journey. Keep going, child. Keep going.
Staci Boden is a San Francisco-based healing practitioner, energy worker and author of Turning Dead Ends into Doorways: How to Grow Through Whatever Life Throw (Conari Press, 2012).
Staci works with individuals and groups to help transform decisions, projects, and relationships. She sees private clients as well as leads personal and spiritual development workshops to help people learn how to navigate life.