01/18/2013 07:59 EST | Updated 03/20/2013 05:12 EDT

Dancing With Death

A close family member recently had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. She passed away last Sunday. Ten days after suffering the heart attack. She had her last dance. Her name was on death's dance card that day.

With 2013 still in its infant stage, I feel like an eternity has passed. On January 3 I received two pieces of unexpected, but bad news. Part of it I can speak about, the other part I cannot. But before there are any concerns raised, I can tell you the cancer has not come back. Thankfully.

The part I can tell you about is about a close family member. She had a heart attack on that day, and was rushed to the hospital. She was taken to the trauma centre, where her vital signs were evaluated, the results not being the best. After a few difficult days, she was moved over to the palliative care wing, where she was to have her last dance. I went to see her while she was still in the trauma section. Only one person was allowed in to visit at a time. I could speak, but didn't understand very well, her mouth and nose were shielded with an oxygen mask.

She was conscious, though. She knew I was there.

I spoke to her of how strong a person I thought she was. I didn't mean her body. I meant her mind, and I'm sure she knew. She showed me the myriad of coloured wires that were hooked up to her. Analyzing her every move; her every breath. She didn't like them. She told me she had a big decision to make. I understood. You see, we had discussed this when I was diagnosed with breast cancer a while after I had the double mastectomy. I told her about getting to the crossroad and making a choice. Inherently, I knew she was talking about this crossroad, and her own decision. I told her how glad I was that she had been a part of my life. She made things easier; understood me when I needed it. We said our good-byes, not knowing if this would be the last time we would do this.

And she passed away last Sunday. Ten days after suffering the heart attack. She had her last dance. Her name was on death's dance card that day.

She is lucky, Tante Berthe. She had the time to say good-bye to the ones she loved, and were special to her. She had time to think about death, and make peace with herself and her life. Not everyone has that opportunity.

Since her passing, and by sheer coincidence, I have been listening to "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Ablom. I had already read the book, but I wanted to listen to it, as read by the author. Morrie talks about death very openly, and talks of making peace with life, so you can have a peaceful death.

His words are soothing and timely. They are wise; spoken from a man who has learned a few things, especially after he was diagnosed with ALS. While he was telling his story to Mitch, and in response to a question, Morrie spoke about how he had changed since his diagnosis with a disease with no cure. He portrayed himself as a different man, having realized that it was the simple things in life that brought the most joy. He appreciated life's little pleasures.

It got me thinking that this is very similar to the mindset of some of the many who are diagnosed with cancer. I know that Morrie's words strongly resounded in me -- I GOT it. I realized that I, too, had been on that dance floor. Feeling the intensity of the music as I twirled around the floor. But I only brushed the hand of death. You see, his dance card was full. It wasn't my time.

And I am grateful. So grateful that his card was full. Grateful because I know. I was one of the privileged ones whose heart (and mind) grew ten sizes bigger that day. I was given the opportunity of truly understanding the truth behind life. And hoping that I will be around to share this knowledge with my family and with others.

Understanding this makes dealing with death somehow easier. I sure hope Berthe's last dance was everything she wished for, and that it was truly beautiful.