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Dancing with Chopin

Classical music? I was never a devoted fan, but one of my patients changed all that, enough so that whenever I hear Chopin, she is all around me.

Victoria was a middle-aged woman, petite, cultured, attractive – a lady in the truest sense of the word. She was devoted to her husband, her adult children, and Chopin. When I met her, she had suffered with ovarian cancer for 3 years (a feat in itself), and after exhausting traditional and alternative medicine treatment regimens, her only hope lay in getting included in a clinical trial, which was by no means certain.

She came to her first session wearing a designer suit, heels, a perfect manicure and a beautifully coiffed wig. She exuded poise and sophistication. Victoria chatted for a bit in a conversational manner, almost like she was at a social event. Suddenly, she stopped, then took a deep breath. Her words came out in a rush. “I never thought about dying.”

I sat, silent. She paused, struggled for breath and begged, “Don’t make me say that again.” She dug into her purse, found a small bottle and asked my permission to sip. The dark blue liquid, a derivative of the potent narcotic morphine, helped settle her labored breathing. She sat, her eyes filled with quiet fear. It seemed as if those words had been torn from her against her will, and now, she wanted nothing more than to take them back.

I assured her we did not have to “go there,” and we moved to safer ground.

At Victoria’s next visit, she chatted only briefly before the quiet fear returned. Her eyes welled up with tears, and as she dabbed them with a lace handkerchief, she apologized. I quietly remarked that whatever feelings she had were okay. She looked at me in disbelief, her voice quivering. “You mean I can cry?”

Pain pierced my heart and I could only nod. With that, Victoria covered her face with her hands, leaned into her lap and sobbed, her body rocking back and forth, wracked with grief. I wanted nothing more than to reach across the space between us and hold her, comfort her; the depth of her emotional pain was palpable. Instead, I visualized holding her as she cried. I could literally feel someone else’s arms (…wings?…) on top of mine, holding us in a Circle of Grace.

In this shared moment, we dwelt on sacred ground. No interventions other than love, compassion and presence were needed. It was enough to simply be with Victoria.

The following week, Victoria came into the room with renewed energy, a huge smile and a torrent of words. It was as if a dam had broken somewhere in the deepest part of her, and everything that had been buried, was now free. She announced that she was no longer afraid to die, and went on to describe a recent dream. In it, God introduced Victoria to her soul. She described it as a whirling, white mass of energy that spun round and round so quickly that it emitted shooting, golden sparks. Her eyes shone with excitement and her smile seemed even bigger. Victoria seemed almost childlike with the wonder of meeting her soul. “Best of all,” she confided, “my soul danced.”

My excitement mirrored hers. I recalled the woman of last week, who cried because with her tumors, she could no longer remember how to play Chopin on her piano. I had to ask. “Your soul; was it dancing to Chopin?”

“Yes,” she answered quietly, her eyes meeting mine, filled with a new-found peace. “Yes.”

I pictured her dancing effortlessly, joyous and cancer free, as the chords of Chopin echoed all around us.

Not quite 2 weeks later, when Victoria missed her appointment, I sought out her oncologist for an update. Victoria had taken a sudden turn for the worse, and was in the hospice unit on another floor. Almost as an afterthought, the doctor added that she only had a few days left. I went directly to her room, where her husband and adult children were keeping vigil around her bed. When I hesitated, her husband told Victoria that I was there, and she motioned me toward her side. She had lost more weight, and every movement seemed a huge effort.

I took her hand and looked at her, unable to speak for the tears. Her eyes met mine with a wisdom and peace that suited her, a mantle she wore comfortably and with her usual elegance.

She gently pulled me closer and whispered, “I love you.”

I just shook my head, still unable to say a word. With all the strength I could muster, I squeezed her hand. “Chopin – you will be dancing to Chopin…”

Victoria smiled as she nodded her assent, then closed her eyes. Even this small exchange left her spent.

I leaned in and kissed her cheek. “Thank you for the gift of you, Victoria. Our time together has been a privilege, and I keep you in my heart,” I said quietly. Having said my good-bye, I turned and left.

Be well, Victoria, and move on with my gratitude, blessings and love. Your soul graced this earth with beauty and brightness. You will be missed. You will be remembered.

Dance with abandon.

And thank you for introducing me to Chopin…

Sacred ground. So many moments in our lives, unaware, we dwell on sacred ground.

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