Annually, the Houston community takes pause to honor Bo’s Place and to learn about the depth and breadth of their support and services at the Hearts of Hope Luncheon. Mary Beth Staine, Bo’s Place Executive Director, put it beautifully that each year, the luncheon organically develops into a beautiful and unique offering, and this year was no exception. The 2017 featured guest was Dr. Lucy Kalanithi, who presented her late husband Paul’s memoire When Breath Becomes Air. Lucy invited us directly into her heart, sharing from her story of love, loss and rebirth. She took us on her transformational voyage through grief, into motherhood and onto a book tour.
We learned that Paul was a neurosurgeon who was just 36 years old when he received a terminal medical diagnosis. He wrote about his manner of sharing life-changing diagnoses with his patients, “a tureen of tragedy was best allotted by the spoonful.” Paul was intimately aware of the journey his body was taking and thus he did not have the luxury of a learning curve. Committed to a life of service and healing, and with a Masters in English Literature, he shared his journey with transparent awareness and elegant prose. His grace and pain flow through the book as he reflected on his experience, “I’d received the plastic arm bracelet that all patients wear, put on a familiar light blue hospital gown, walked past the nurses I knew by name, and was checked into a room. And with that, the future I had imagined, the one just about to be realized, the culmination of decades of striving, evaporated.” With a commitment to publish his work, deciding to have a child together, and now sharing her own story so openly, we learned that you can continue to nurture and honor a relationship, even after a death.
Lucy described being on “this side” of the loss of her husband as a worthwhile toleration of suffering, with the profound purpose of sharing Paul’s message of living. “Yes I grieved; bereavement is more than learning to separate from a spouse. Though I can no longer comfort Paul, the other vows I made on our wedding day – to love Paul, to honor and keep him – stretch well beyond death. The commitment and loyalty, my desire to do right by him, especially as I raise our daughter, will never end.”
The words, penned into a book by a husband, spoken by his wife and living forever in a memoire, were received with tender compassion by the audience. A sense of hope was palpable from Lucy’s unending commitment and connection to Paul, a message we at Bo’s Place often share with the families we support. Continuing bonds after the death of a loved one are a rare and beautiful act of courage, and are often overshadowed by the darkness of grief. As a Bo’s Place volunteer support group facilitator, I left with a renewed sense of communion and a reminder of why I volunteer my time to the families of Bo’s Place – for the hope and healing that awaits each of us just beyond the horizon of bereavement.
-Written in reflection by Leah Adams