Vanessa’s Gift

Orange Lily

Orange Lily

I got a call on Monday from a former client – and I guess you could also call her a friend – although not an intimate one.  “Hi Cathy, it’s Vanessa (not her real name). I know we haven’t talked in a long time. I have something I need to tell you, but I’d rather tell you in person rather than leave a message on your voice mail.”

I’ve known Vanessa for at least fifteen years. I met her when I was providing physical therapy services for her employer. Vanessa was my client’s caregiver and after she left that job, she sought me out to do some Rolfing. We did a series of sessions to treat her back pain and during that process, I got to know more about her.  A pretty woman with red hair and blue eyes, Vanessa was married to a farmer. She had three daughters in their teens, she worked cleaning houses and caregiving and she was a victim of severe childhood abuse. Vanessa spoke of her history matter-of-factly, but I always wondered about the impact her childhood had produced on her current life.

After we finished her Rolfing series, Vanessa would call from time-to-time. She might come in for a maintenance session, we might meet for lunch, and most years she would bring me a fifty pound bag of onions – produce from her husband’s farm. During our infrequent visits, Vanessa talked about her life – various challenges including estrangements with her family. One daughter had moved away and wasn’t speaking to her, another was in school in a different state and rarely called. Vanessa would share her stories, but not in great detail. She seemed philosophical about her lot and accepting of the situation. But, again, I often wondered about the dynamics that produced a family so distant and troubled.

When we finally connected this week, Vanessa said: “Cathy, I’ve been diagnosed with Stage IV lymphoma. The doctors have given me two months. I have elected not to do any treatment. I just wanted you to know that I think the world of you and I so appreciate your kindness to me over the years.” She went on to say that her daughters had all come to see her when they learned the news. Everyone showed their love and support, and she planned to travel over the next month to see siblings, cousins, and aunts that she hadn’t seen in years. She seemed happy, content, at ease with her fate – looking forward spending time with family and friends.

As I hung up the phone, somehow I felt uplifted by our conversation. My sense is that Vanessa has finally let go of whatever was keeping her from connecting with her loved ones and they with her. She’s content to pass from this life knowing that they rallied around her in her final days.

Vanessa, thank you for this gift… All the things that have been bothering me recently seem trite. I vow to spend more time playing, less time worrying, and to tell those I love how I feel at every opportunity. And most of all, I hope that when the time comes, I will accept my own mortality with the same courage and grace that I now see in you.

With love,

Cathy

24 comments on “Vanessa’s Gift

  1. marydpierce says:

    What a lovely tribute to Vanessa. I don’t know her, but I am sending loving thoughts and prayers out to her. Thank you for sharing this, Cathy.

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  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    What a touching post. Your words: “I vow to spend more time playing, less time worrying, and to tell those I love how I feel at every opportunity” along with your friend’s courage have inspired me. Thank you.

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  3. This is beautiful, Cathy. Sending soothing, healing, peace, ease and flow to Vanessa and her family. You are a gift to many people and I am happy to have you, my friend.
    Love you dearly,
    Crystal

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    • Cathy Ulrich says:

      Crystal,
      Thank you. I’m so glad to be able to share Vanessa’s story here. Her experience truly seems to be a “Grace” thing. And I’m sure she and her family a ready and able to receive your blessings.
      Love you, too.
      cathy

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  4. unfetteredbs says:

    Goosebumps as I read this Cathy. A thoughtful loving post filled with truths we should all follow.
    I love the photo.

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  5. 4aileen says:

    Sometimes we find richness in life in unexpected places. So sweet a relationship you developed with Vanessa over the years. It was nice to read that Vanessa and her family are able to finally show the love that they have for each other.

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    • Cathy Ulrich says:

      Yes, it’s true Aileen. Life’s richness does sometimes show up in unexpected places. This one touched me deeply. I hope to get to see Vanessa when she returns from her family trips and we left that as a possibility, depending on how she’s feeling, but if not, it feels as if we’re good and she’ll be fine, no matter what happens. Thanks, as always for reading, my friend.
      cathy

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  6. robincoyle says:

    I don’t think I could face that kind of news with such grace. Vanessa is a special person in that she can.

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  7. aFrankAngle says:

    Touching, emotional, very real, and a tribute to Vanessa as well. Well done …. plus, I wanted to stop by to say hi to you!

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  8. Vanessa was very lucky to have connected with you-it seems as if you were a major conduit for her healing–even at times you weren’t working together on the earth plane. Your higher self helps a lot of us! Love-Julie

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    • Cathy Ulrich says:

      Julie,
      Thank you. Your words mean more to me than you can know (on second thought, you probably do know 🙂 ). I think Vanessa was looking for healing and being with someone who would see her in a higher light. I think that’s mostly what I did. I didn’t advise, and I didn’t judge, I just listened. Maybe that’s what she needed the most. In retrospect, I suppose it was the best thing to do for her. And I’m glad she’s at peace.
      Love,
      Cathy

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      • Dear Cathy–I get the sense that just treating her in a non-judgmental and loving way was extremely cathartic for her. It seems like the way you viewed her allowed her to forgive herself. That’s just my impression–but I feel my emotions rising as I write this–it touches something very deeply in me. Compassionate listening truly transcends ego. Lots of love and thanks for sharing-Julie

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  9. Kind, but at the same time, a sad tribute to someone who does not sound like she had a very easy life, and is checking out much too early. Cathy, do you know if her lymphoma was diagnosed at such a late stage, or was she aware that she it for quite some time and chose to forgo treatment? I am wondering if she may have lacked or could not afford health insurance and therefore, she did not start seeking the medical help she needed until it was too late.

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    • Cathy Ulrich says:

      V,
      It’s a good question. As far as I know, Vanessa had insurance and her lymphoma was diagnosed late. She told me she had recently been for her regular Gyn exam and it wasn’t picked up then. She did say that in retrospect, she had some symptoms that may have been related, but didn’t say what those were. I think she just decided that the treatment at this point was too aggressive without a lot of hope that it would help. She just didn’t want to go through it. It is sad, but she seems to be at peace with her decision and all I knew to do was support in it.

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      • Hey Cathy, I’m not at all questioning your decision. I think you’ve done the right thing, for at this stage, supporting Vanessa is all you can do. I’d do the exact same. Knowing that there are so many millions out there without insurance, I was just wondering if you knew if she might be a member of that unfortunate group. A few months back Nicholas Kristof from the New York Times wrote very movingly about an old college bud of his who was uninsured and was dying of stage 4 prostate cancer:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/18/opinion/kristof-scotts-story-and-the-election.html?_r=0

        Of course, there are also people, that do have insurance, but their plans are very limited. I think the health care situation in this country is terrible and I also loathe the fact that it’s tied to one’s employer. I loathe that a lot.

        Sorry for going off on a tangent about this on your site, but I think there’s a huge divide between who has the Cadillac of care in this country — all elected officials for life, and then, the rest of us that have varying types, or sadly, none at all. Maybe it will improve next year when Obama’s Affordable Care Act kicks in.

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    • Cathy Ulrich says:

      V,
      Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Yesterday was a travel day, we’re in Steamboat Springs this week for our annual ski trip (sorry for the “s” word, I know how you feel about that…).

      Your comments are always welcome here.I so agree with you about the health care situation here in the U.S. It’s always seemed screwy that health benefits have been tied to employment and have depended on the benevolence of said employers. It creates a huge disparity in the level of coverage within our system. Being a health care provider myself, you can only imagine how complicated it is – for me as a solo practitioner who sees clients for one hour sessions – I simply gave up and ask my clients to do their own filing. For that reason, I have deeply discounted my fees – they pay me and then get reimbursed themselves. So many have such hugely high deductibles that they would be paying me anyway and the discount helps them a lot. And I probably make as much or more money, even with the discounted fees, because I don’t have to hire two full-time workers to do my insurance billing and collecting. And interestingly, with my cash-based practice, I’m still booked about eight weeks out.

      Granted, my work is entirely outpatient and does not involve any kind of serious health issues or “life or death” decisions. It’s more of a “quality of life” service. Still, health insurance companies are typically a nightmare to deal with. When I was taking insurance, a wait for payment of claims could easily be three to six months with the constant threat of what seemed to be arbitrary denial of said claims.

      Anyway, I too, am hoping that the Affordable Health Care Act makes a difference for the millions in this country who are not insured or underinsured. Then there’s the whole can of worms about wellness vs. health care. If our culture could fix two things – smoking and diet – the huge costs of health care would plummet. At least, that’s what I think…

      Like

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