In 2013 I had a retinal detachment while at work as a hospitalist. I was directed to a retinal specialist that day. Dr. Moore was the kindest but also most direct doctor I have ever known. He informed me and my wife that I had a choroidal melanoma, a very rare form of eye cancer with a poor prognosis. I happened to have had a patient who was also a friend, who died from this. This was shocking news, frightening, and very much in my face.
That night I went off to sleep quite easily. In the middle of the night I had a dream, or more of a vision. In this dream state I was being confronted by a woman who was inexplicably extremely angry with me. I felt hopeless, confused, and lost. The background was dark, much like a black box theater. I then saw some light come from behind me. Quietly and slowly a figure in light came toward me. This was a woman walking in silence in bright light. She had her left hand held out, palm up. As she approached I put my hand on top of hers. Instantaneously there was a silent explosion of brilliant light, with a feeling of expansion of every part of me into the universe. I was enveloped in love and knew then that love is the most powerful force in the universe. I knew that no matter what might happen to me, including dying, that I would be fine, at peace in the universe of love.
Because of this experience I have felt that the cancer I have had has been the greatest gift in my life. I am thankful for the diagnosis because of what it has brought to me. I now see this perfect love in surprising places and its intensity can be very emotional, very deep in my heart, and filling me with tears, joyful wonderful tears. I look at death as not something to fear, but with curiosity and positive anticipation. It is about love and the perfect brilliance which we all have within us.
David’s story is not all that uncommon, according to the International Association for Near Death Studies “about 12% to 40% of people who go through a near-death episode will later say they had a near death experience”. It sounds like he was shown a fundamental crossroads: chose anger or chose love, and he took the hand of love. I’ve yet to meet a person who chooses this path and regrets it.
This coming close to death has re-sensitized him to the exquisite beauty of life, where there’s space for everything, including pain and heartache. Tears of joy and tears of sorrow look so much the same.
With enough time and support, many people come to see their diagnosis or trauma as a source of vitality.
Curiosity is a wonderful lens through which to look into the future. Whatever unknown is coming David’s way, he has perspective and a compass in hand. Fear does not have to be so frightening.
-BJ Miller, MD