The work of keeping the heart open can be arduous, particularly because it involves being present. It means feeling deep sorrow. But there will also be many delights.

As a conduit for healing, I provide hands-on reiki energy and deep listening as a life coach. Over the years, I’ve been blessed to bear witness to some of life’s most amazingly tender, joyous and agonizing moments in the lives of friends, beloveds and strangers who later became close friends.

Often, my clients are right on the cusp of life, tasting everything, still open to possibility, planning bright futures. Others are facing impending death and are helping their beloveds plan lives without them.

I often think of no matter what stage of life I’m in, how, I too, am part of what the poet Anne Sexton called, “that awful rowing toward God.” The concept of death frightens many of us on a primal level. I smile whenever I catch myself saying, “if something ever happens to me…” When in fact the if, is truly not an if, but a whenwhen I die.

I believe the desire to live a long time fairly normative. What we often find abnormal (although it happens all the time), is when parents outlive their children or when young people die.

Several years ago, I mourned my own miscarriage with a grief that shook me with its intensity. Getting up close and personal with death, took some getting used to. Finally, to make peace with dying, I had to refrain from comparing life to death, for death is not life.

Yes, I’m going to die, so why not live each day with gratitude, just in case it’s my last?

What helped most, though, was when one of my best friends of over a decade told me she had terminal brain cancer. She was young, in her early fifties, and coincidentally, we shared the same name. Her name was also “Michelle Berry.”

I felt deep anguish, but vowed to see her regularly once she was out of remission. A year later, as we realized her appointment with death was at hand; I sat beside her and said, “Michelle, I have so much to say…”

She nodded and took my hands in hers and said, “I only have this to say, thank God for you.” “No, thank God for you,” I insisted, as we playfully argued about which of us was thanking God more for the other. Tears streamed hotly down my cheeks, as we laughed heartily.

Fortunately, Michelle kept an on-line journal expressing deep gratitude. She recorded humorous stories for her sons, husband, family and friends. Her writing was filled with love, hope and humor.

From births to deathbeds and all things in-between, the work of keeping the heart open can be arduous, particularly because it involves being present. It means feeling deep sorrow. But there will also be many delights. You will fall in love with the world again.

As she died, Michelle taught me so much about living. I learned to accept my mortality (because people were always saying “Michelle Berry died).” I stopped thinking, “the other Michelle Berry died,” and instead, I think, “Yes, I’m going to die, so why not live each day with gratitude, just in case it’s my last?”


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Michelle Courtney Berry

Michelle Courtney Berry

About the author
Michelle Courtney Berry is an author, mompreneur, ordained officiant and former Poet Laureate of Tompkins County. She works as a life coach, meditation teacher and reiki master. She lives in Ithaca with her spouse, daughter and their two cats. www.michellecourtneyberry.com