Joyous Giving, Fearless Death
What would you do if you were told by your doctor "to get your affairs in order, you have only 2 months to live."?
That was what Sandra's doctor told her, when she was admitted to the ER last December. And true to the doctor's words, Sandra passed away in February this year. After her funeral, the family put together a memorial website for Sandra. That was when I received a phone call from Muriel, Sandra's mom, and learned about her death.
Sandra Emerling came to help us with our tax-exempt application in 2004 through Pro Bono Partnership in White Plains, NY. She worked in GE Corporate Tax Dept in Connecticut and had volunteered extensively with Pro Bono Partnership and various other organizations. When putting together her memorial website, everyone was amazed to learn of all these countless charities that she had volunteered with.
We were very fortunate to have Sandra. Not only did she help us successfully obtain tax-exempt status, she was also our first benefactor. She pledged a donation to Blazing Wisdom Institute in Muriel's name, as a birthday gift to her mom while working on our tax-exempt application.
I spoke with Muriel over the phone and asked her about Sandra's last 2 months after she was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Some people are darkened by unfortunate events, others become incandescent. Both Sandra and Muriel belong to the latter. There was none of that anger, guilt, regrets, sadness, helplessness, or self-pity one would typically experience given the same set of circumstances. Sandra was very courageous, she carried with her the "I can deal with this" attitude and was joyous through the end of her life. She moved into Muriel's condo in Michigan where Muriel could provide care for her after cancer treatment. The family rallied in to help. Muriel was very grateful that she had that 2 months with Sandra, she said that was a gift.
It was also important to know that Sandra didn't suffer. She had cancer, and yes, pain. But she never suffered. Her brother David said, " If you would have seen her CAT scan that we saw, to know that she didn't suffer with her lungs the way they were. We had absolutely no idea how she was even breathing, and up until Wednesday she was breathing on her own, This just blows my mind, absolutely blows my mind. But she didn't suffer. She never suffered, and we think that was God's way of taking care of her because there was no way of taking care of the disease she had."
But how did Sandra sustain such presence, openness, courage and joy? I found clues in Muriel, Sandra's mom. When Sandra's father died abruptly about fifteen years ago, everyone was worried that Muriel would become the grief-stricken widow that dies young too, and suggested she seek grief/depression counselling. Muriel insisted there was no need for that. They didn't believe her and made her take all the tests and questionnaires anyway. The results came back and they were shocked, "You really are not depressed at all." Muriel told me, she made a conscious choice to be a happy, joyous person everyday of her life, and has not wavered from making that choice.
Sandra had that same determination, brilliance and exuberance like Muriel. She excelled in everything she did, contributed tirelessly to the community, and was always ready to help.
For many of us, Sandra embodied the qualities that lie at the heart of a good life and a peaceful death : lack of fear, openness to spirit and love of community.
Sandra's memorial website is http://www.emerling.us/