Kamala Bids Farewell

Kamala’s mother left a telephone message that her daughter died on August 18th at 2 a.m. She sounded overwhelmed, having to make so many calls and at the same time grieving the death of her 45 year-old daughter. Either mother or father visited Kamala every day for 5 years, bringing healthy, delicious food, physical and spiritual support, exhausting all potential remedies for her condition. I sensed they were experiencing a mixture of relief that her suffering had ended, grief for their loss, and a void that was once filled with caregiving.

Kamala, whom I introduced in the last Living/Dying Project newsletter, had a chronic, debilitating illness, Paraneoplastic Cerebellar Degeneration, a rare condition that occurs in less than 1% of cancer patients. The impact on her life was sudden and devastating. Within a few months she could not move her body from the waist down, had double vision, tremors, difficulty swallowing.  She was confined to a nursing home bed. Her vibrant, joyful, loving self was trapped in the prison of her physical body. There was no cure.

Yet she invited me and Ken, her other Living Dying Project volunteer, into her space, into her life. She looked forward to our visits. In the midst of what at times seemed like a dark desert landscape, our connection and friendship was an oasis.

We said goodbye 2 days before she died – she had a premonition that her death was imminent. There were other signs – she said parts of her body felt cold, she was having flashbacks. She seemed to be in a deep state of grief and longing. I grieved with her, both of us on the edge of joy and sorrow. We acknowledged our gratitude for the time we had together. I told her we would always be connected, and that she had been a teacher for me.

Kamala showed me how much I take for granted – my mobility, my capacity to make adjustments and alignments, that being alive in a physical body is a gift. She taught me that physical illness is impersonal, that I can only make it personal by finding meaning. She taught me how to sit with helplessness, hopelessness, and look into the void of no meaning. She taught me that there is value and love in being present to human connection without conditions or expectations.

I have a reliable source who told me they saw Kamala dancing among the stars, joyful and free. I’d like to believe that is true.

— John Emmons
Living/Dying Project Volunteer