Today I’m passing on a part of a Q&A conversation I’m having with Dorrie Koller. I requested this email back and forth with her because Dorrie has grappled with abrupt, life-altering transition in a way few of us have to deal with all at once. And she’s done so without flinching from the emotional onslaught, from devastation to joy to a mix of emotions impossible to name.
Within the past year Dorrie lost her husband, her lifemate for the entirety of her adulthood, a man she met at 19. She lost her mother, whom she’d cared for personally within their home for many years. As if to complete the taking away of all life in the household, her beloved dog companion died too (Sparky!). For financial security she found herself having to move from the art world she relished into a new line of work . . .
Her kids are grown and live elsewhere, and had already spent every available weekend traveling to their parents’ home during her husband’s illness for the previous two years. As Dorrie put it to me once, she felt abandoned, as if she’d been orphaned —
Dorrie, let’s start with this profound direct quote from you: “I’m feeling very good about life — not the whole life — just the important part, right now. It is amazing how this tiny difference is bringing me back to me.”
what you’ve just undergone in the past year, can you tell me a
little about how you got to this place?
recently read a card that said, “hold on and be dragged.” I stood
there looking at it, shaking my head and grinning.
Wow. I know that
feeling. Most of my adult life was filled with desires to “better” my
home, my yard, my relationships, my finances, my education, my skills,
and talents. This was done out of enjoyment, but also in order to
secure my future.
Whenever there is hope for the future, there is
also fear that those hopes will not pan out. Therefore, we hold on to
them, tightly and get worried if that future looks threatened. When
Don came down with terminal brain cancer, I was dragged down the long,
long bumpy road of dashed hopes and fears.
was a very hopeful person. A person with a lot of hope has to have a
lot of plans, and that was something I was near perfect in. I had no
idea that hope only deals with the future, and while I had heard that
futures are never guaranteed, well, gee. Whoever goes around thinking
about that little morbid detail?
Everything in my life was done for
the future. Think about it. You go shopping in the morning for dinner
tonight. You put retirement funds away in places where you acquire more
interest over time. You want your kids to get good grades so they can
get good jobs. The list goes on and on. I loved the planning, and I
was a very optimistic person regarding my future.
Then, Don got brain
cancer, and life as I understood it to be, changed. There was no cure;
therefore, no real future for us anymore. We surgically removed what we
could — and then waited for the cancer to return. We were supposed to
get on with our lives as normally as possible.
nothing was normal. We were like actors in a play, and neither of us
knew our lines. From one day to the next, we never knew what was going
to happen to Don. I could plan NOTHING. Not dinner, not a
conversation, certainly not our future.
Every month for a year and
four months the MRIs came back all clear. We would have a minute or
two of elation, complete with tears and heaving chests. By the time our
seat belts were fastened and we were on our way to our victory
luncheon, the dread was back full force and worse. The possibility of
living like this for the next 15 years seemed worse than a death
The September MRI results brought our first day of peace.
Don had eight more tumors. It was a relief in a sad sort of way. The
relief was a succinct understanding that there was nothing we could do —
a certain lifting and discarding of a false sense of responsibility
towards something that didn’t even exist in the present moment anyway.
The burden of the future was gone. By letting go of hope, I also let
go of fear.
So we lived with zero hope, because
“we” had no future. Living with zero hope means you live in the very
moment you are in. If it is a nice one — well good. If a bad one —
well, bad. We didn’t have time to react emotionally to these moments,
and we were so numb we didn’t even know how to.
It didn’t matter
anymore, anyway. We had no desires to change anything, fix anything,
create anything, see or experience anything. We had an overwhelming
sense of the repetitiveness of movies, stories, news, needs, and
Life became so simple. Just live. We loved milkshakes,
butterflies, wind. That’s all. We would sit outside for hours and have
not a single thing to say. We would look at each other ……. and draw a
blank. Even words lost their meaning. As things progressed, Don even
withdrew from me and our kids. I understood. He was on his own
journey — and as surprising as this might seem — I suddenly realized
that I didn’t have brain cancer.
For the first time in 38 years, I let
I realized that we had been walking side-by-side on separate
trails all along; and, they were now parting. Things got a lot worse
until one day in December, my fighter just gave it up. He wanted me to
call Hospice. Don had even given up the desire to keep on living and it
was entirely OK. The peace was astounding throughout our house.
bird singing was miraculous. Dinner was delicious. Being in each
other’s presence — beyond description. The breeze we felt along our arms
while sitting on the deck that night felt like a caress from God.
letting go of what is considered the most precious thing in the world —
life, itself — I felt as though we were being given it back — eternally.
We received life back in every molecule and every fiber of our being,
from every fiber and molecule of every other being. It was like
becoming one with the universe.
I learned that I own nothing, control
nothing, that I have no future, and that I am the future. I learned
that Don and I were not two, nor were we one. We were two and one.
is the ultimate truth. You can’t change it, revoke it, make it less,
pretty it up, or put it off. We truly live our lives one breath at a
time. You cannot lose what you never had — the future. You can only
know your future when it is your past.
You really can love better when
you let go of what you think will be the results of your efforts in the
future. It puts you right into the very moment of what you are doing —
and all you are doing is loving.
My huge loss gave me a great
understanding of the impermanence of everything, which eliminated my
desire to spend precious time of mine trying to control future issues
that may never be.
It simplified everything for me. It gave me back my
freedoms that I enjoyed as a kid. As a small child, I never felt
compelled to fix everything and plan everything. I simply enjoyed it
all. I lived in the moment. I have come back to that — back to me.
Two Dorrie-inspired posts
Other posts because they seem to fit