Clear Light Institute: Grace, Strength and Dignity in the Face of Loss


A NUMBER OF YEARS AGO, I was admitted to the hospital for a five day regimen of chemotherapy. The unit I was assigned to had patients who were seriously ill and with few exceptions were bedridden. I saw a lot of suffering. It was emotionally intense for me to see this and I was glad for the rare patient who was discharged.

The chemotherapy drug I received was very difficult for me but I discovered that it was much more tolerable when I got out of bed and walked around the unit. The IV drug was mounted on a pole with wheels so it was easy for me to push it in front of me as I walked. Sometimes I walked for hours.

On one of my walks, I rolled past the intensive care unit’s waiting room just down the hall from my unit. The room was filled with a large group of family and friends talking, hugging and showing a lot of loving support for one another. Throughout the days and nights, there would be ten to twelve people in the room. The gathering of this loving family and the strength and steadfastness of one man in particular was always there. For the last several days of my stay, I would enjoy observing this on my frequent walks.

Sometimes the man was there alone. We started waving to one other during each of my laps. It was hard for me to be on my unit surrounded by so many seriously ill people so I found it comforting to pass by this family. One evening, the man came out and walked laps with me as we talked.

I told him about my condition and he shared that his 20-year-old son was in the ICU with serious head injuries after a motorcycle accident. They were waiting to see if his young son would live or die from his injuries.

What was most memorable was the feeling of utter peace and ease I felt while walking with this man. We shared a deep connection while acknowledging each other’s pain at a critical moment in our lives. He was about to lose his son and I was gravely ill and not sure of my future.

The next morning while I walked past the ICU, the man and other family members gathered in the hallway showering the young man with love as he was wheeled past them. He was covered in tattoos and looked so young.

The following day, I was discharged. As I was leaving with my husband, we passed by the ICU waiting room. I waved to the man who I had such a lovely connection with the day before. The waiting room was full of family but he ran over to me. As we waited at the elevator, he told me that his son’s injuries were too severe and they decided to let him go and disconnect him from life support.

I was struck by the dignity and grace of this man at a time that must have been so excruciating. As a parent, I can’t imagine the pain he felt. Yet, in that moment of seeing me, I was very touched that he thought to share his decision to let his son go.

I think of him and his son often and feel privileged to have witnessed this man’s amazing grace, strength and dignity during a most painful time for him. This was a true inspiration for me as I processed my own serious illness.

with love,

Jennifer Dunn

Jennifer Dunn has been a student at Sukhasiddhi since 2008 and will soon be completing the four-year Shangpa program.