By Julia Benkoski

I have been given last rites three times. I’ve been told that I was dying, to get Hospice and go home to die. Total darkness engulfed me like a vast, sucking whirlpool. I was suddenly alone in a room of people. My husband continued to work on his device as though the doctor had just informed me of some mundane fact. Did I hear this correctly? Was I imagining the complacent words the doctor had uttered? Without any compassion nor explanation, he purposefully left the room.

In the silence of the room my mind reeled with the noises of insanity and disbelief. One of my dearest friends happened to be in my ICU room. I turned to her and with my labored breath, I whispered that I wanted my spiritual director. But what could anyone do? I had been told by this supposedly competent physician that my lungs could no longer do their appointed work, that my entire body was corrupt and malfunctioning and; thus, it could not live. I strained with each breath, sucking in the manufactured oxygen and I felt like I was drowning. I suppose I was. I felt utterly hopeless and most of all, helpless. No control of anything. The darkness continued to envelope everything in and around me.

When my spiritual advisor arrived bedside, she took my hand. Her eyes betrayed the words of hope for me, life for me, another day for me. My belly ached with a twisting pain that only grew with each shallow, labored breath I took. I softly asked my nurse for pain meds and prayed that they would quickly arrive. And then I wasn’t sure if the ache in my heart, my soul was worse than the horrific, pulsing pain in my gut. I questioned why no one could hug me, hold me, assure me that this doctor was terribly wrong.

Life, your light is fragile. If you deliberately, although unconsciously, tempt fate by ignoring the signs that your breath is slowly disappearing from your core, before your very eyes, it can and will leave you. Too late! Breath, your soul’s wind-song, feeds the light of your soul. My heart whimpered with a very slow, erratic rhythm. It was tired, used up. It mocked me, a result of my helter-skelter daily mantra and routine. I had raced through each day praying that somehow I could get home, crawl into bed and never have to get back up. Weakness in body and spirit was slowly snuffing out my dim light. It wasn’t even a glow.

After ‘my people’ left for the day, the aloneness almost strangled the squeaking, racing, labored breaths. My nurse told me to slow my breaths down! What? I could not breathe, couldn’t she see that?? It was reckoning time. How could I die when I had a ‘to-do list’ that stretched on and on like dark, pungent licorice? Ahh, but was it my ‘MUST DO’ list that was the culprit, the product of work-aholism, cancer in my soul? Where was God in all of this? How could He abandon me? Wasn’t I the noble one, self-sufficient and the savior for everyone in my life? No, there was no nobility in ignoring His Will, His Light. Darkness would follow, the joy of the Evil One.

My body shook with my pleadings, by begging, my bartering. And then, acceptance and understanding filled my being. It was never my light. He was the source of all light. I merely carried His light to others. I asked Him to allow me to continue to carry that light without sacrificing my being in the name of work and others and all for the wrong reasons. I begged Him to let me live not by words but by example, without preaching…to shine through me so that every soul may feel His presence in my breath, my Light. And that may I shine as to be a light to others.

After 35 years as a licensed attorney, my soul and heart yearned for change. Some of those years were consumed with 24/7 grueling hours. I ignored my body and health and soon found myself in and out of ERs and critical hospital stays. Stricken with severe illnesses, which left me clinging to life, I received Last Rites numerous times, was told by a doctor to go home, get hospice care and prepare to die. Instead, I chose to live. My passions are my husband and family; English hunter jumping with Bella Noche; my dogs and kitties; service on behalf of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Rotary Club of Austin; BCCC 8212 lady friends and Book Club! I love the people in my life and traveling! And I’ve written hundreds of weekly columns for the ministry of St. Vincent de Paul. I embrace life with complete and utter abandon! Come, walk and talk with me…

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