One of my closest friends is dying. She was diagnosed almost two years ago with stage IV colorectal cancer and started treatment at M.D. Anderson. It was devastating news that hit me like a gut-punch, making it hard to breathe at times. Her family and friends rallied around her, giving her all kinds of support and encouragement along the way. Unfortunately, the pandemic kept us from being together most of last year; but her treatment seemed to be going well and we had hopes for a weekend together in the Hill Country this spring. Then her cancer took a turn for the worse and the path forward became hospice. By the time this article is published, she will probably be doing a happy dance on the other side, showered with confetti and starlight.
Last weekend, my family and I drove down to Houston to see Kim for the last time. I wasn’t sure what to expect; she had just gotten home from the hospital the day before, and said she was at peace with her situation. She was relieved to end this fight. But how would she feel? What would our visit bring to each of us? How would I handle my grief in her presence, and how on earth would I say goodbye without losing it? My husband prepped me with reminders that I needed to be strong. Even when we know this in our heads, it is another thing to accomplish it. One thing I did know for sure after 25 years of friendship: Kim would be 100% Kim. She would be true to form, full of a love so wide that it encompassed everyone in the room. She would make us laugh, tell the truth, and keep things real. And she did, showing us the grit and grace of authenticity.
Kim has so many friends that her husband Jay, a retired lieutenant colonel, is managing her visitation schedule with a clipboard and computer. There are phone calls, FaceTime calls, and in-person visits, with rest in-between. Some friends have booked flights to come and see her one last time, even though she and Jay have told them that they may only have an hour to spend with her. She said she is “blown away” by this, and Jay is a bit overwhelmed. Still, they are smiling, laughing, and juggling it all with humor and grace. This is how they’ve lived, and this is how she is dying. She’s not afraid. She sees it as a transition into a place filled with Light and Love, with freedom from pain and disease. Her faith and fortitude have carried her through this journey.
I recently heard author and speaker Mike Dooley say that our purpose here is simply to be ourselves. There is a lot of talk about “finding your purpose,” but it really is as simple as being true to who you are. What does that really mean? It isn’t necessarily clear for everyone. Most of us are taught to live according to the norms, styles, and expectations of our family and our culture, and may not have a clue who we are beneath all that. We have to unlearn many of those things in order to find out what we love, what makes us feel alive, and how to follow our own lights. As women, we are conditioned to put others’ needs and wants before our own, to compromise most of the time, and to set aside our dreams until everyone else is taken care of. I know this from experience. It seems to come naturally for women, but what is truly natural comes from our unique and innate design.
“Authenticity is a natural, organic flowing from your soul’s inception to this moment and beyond, even if the branch you’re trying to crawl out upon right now has been stunted through delay, disappointment, disease, or denial. Authenticity is reimagining the spirit, style, and substance of how you’d like your daily round to unfold with beauty, charm, and grace” (Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance, p. 129).
Being authentic means being real. Genuine, true, honest. It stems from a connection to our source, which is Love. That connection can keep us grounded when life throws us a curveball like a cancer diagnosis or a sudden loss. Life is full of situations and experiences that challenge us, crack us open, and develop or reveal our character. They sharpen our focus and give us clarity. Our daily round may not look like anything close to “beauty, charm, and grace.” It can be ugly, painful, and raw. This is true of many seasons, with or without a diagnosis. I’ve learned that when someone is “real”, they tend to accept life as it comes and deal with it honestly. As I’ve seen with Kim, beauty, charm, grit, and grace shine through her authenticity. She has brought love and laughter to everything, along with the tears, frustration, and fear. She has moved through it all with an indomitable spirit because that is how she rolls. It’s who she is. And her authenticity has empowered all of us.
The “real” is what we know in our gut. It makes sense to us inside when things don’t make sense outside, and we can trust it in every situation. When we feel afraid, that rock of wisdom and love within is our anchor. It gives us courage and strength. As Rev. Karen Wylie says, “You are most powerful, most effective, when you are completely yourself, tapped into the core of your being, where whatever you do is in alignment with the purpose and well-being of the whole.” When we live from a place of trust and wholeness, our authenticity empowers us and transforms our world. The joy and pain of life are woven together with beauty, grit, and grace.