How a poem helped my partner through her terminal illness

When Angie learned she had a life-limiting illness, the words of an ancient Sufi poem helped her find acceptance. 

Her partner Brendan describes how the poem, combined with meditation, humour and support from her family, assisted Angie to make the most of her final weeks of life.

How a poem helped my partner through her terminal illness

When Angie learned she had a life-limiting illness, the words of an ancient Sufi poem helped her find acceptance. 

Her partner Brendan describes how the poem, combined with meditation, humour and support from her family, assisted Angie to make the most of her final weeks of life.

When Brendan’s partner Angie learned she had lung cancer in May 2014, her response to “the news of her diagnosis and her impending death was remarkable,” he says. Angie’s spiritual practices were fundamental to how well she accepted having a life-limiting illness, and a tremendous source of strength in her final weeks of life.

The ancient poem at the heart of Angie’s journey

Brendan describes how an ancient poem proved to have incredible contemporary significance for Angie. “Early in her illness, Angie discovered the poem Checkmate by the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi,” he says. “She often got her visitors to read it aloud or got me to read it to them.

“For Angie, Checkmate articulated the profound understanding and acceptance of suffering she had embraced in her illness.” The poem speaks of the soul being ‘cured’ by grief and loss, Brendan explains. He believes Angie’s experiences of these in life meant her soul was already ‘half cured’ before she faced her own illness. “She was, as we will all one day be, checkmated,” he says. “There was nowhere else to turn but towards the Spirit.”

Meditation becomes a wellspring of strength

Brendan adds that Angie’s meditation practice was also essential to her final weeks of life. Angie had learned the principles of Tibetan Buddhist meditation and practiced them daily for over two years.

“When she got the cancer diagnosis, she was able to resume her meditation immediately,” he says. “For Angie, meditation was not just about finding calm, it was about strengthening her resolve to meet the world and her destiny with love and compassion.”

Angie also found comfort in the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, Brendan says. “The spiritual imaginations and soul images she found in those teachings … were such a resource for her in her dying.”

Humour and positivity helped with facing physical decline

Along with her spiritual practices, humour and positivity helped Angie through her final weeks. “Angie radiated love and compassion all through her dying. Every week and later every day, Angie was confronted with another door closing as she lost her ability to cycle, walk up hills, walk to the shops, walk to the bathroom, get out of bed, eat, speak and finally breathe.

“She bore all this with humour and an amazing positivity. There was nothing forced or superficial in that humour and positivity. It came from a deep well of acceptance and spiritual strength.”

Supporting Angie in her last days of life

In her last days, Brendan supported Angie by reciting a verse from Steiner’s works. “This verse embodies a fundamental belief that in each of us there is a Self that is beyond pain, suffering and the personality we present to the world,” he explains. “As Angie consciously approached death … all who were around her were touched by her luminosity.”

Angie died peacefully surrounded by her loved ones on August 31, 2014. Brendan, who has worked as a Violet Guide, says he feels honoured to have watched Angie “grow in a way that I never thought possible” as he cared for her. “I saw a strength emerge in my darling that was never evident to me in the often-mundane days of our 20 years together.”

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