Living with Hilary

45coverBy Vivien Ray
Issue: Fall 2006, The Teenage Years; Issue #45

Vivien Ray is a Craniosacral Therapist in England.

In 2003 her partner died of cancer in Park Attwood Clinic in. She shares her story.

Over three years before my partner, Hilary, died of cancer, I was privileged to accompany her on her journey. As the illness progressed, she was often in a great deal of pain, and I sometimes retired to bed hearing her cries as she waited for her body to settle into a bearable position. She found the twilight consciousness of pain medication worse than the physical pain, however, and rejected conventional drugs entirely.

Thus, I was called upon to develop my skills as a craniosacral therapist in new ways, with Hilary as full co-practitioner. She loved the cranial contact; our cooperation became so close we would both find ourselves responding to subtle shifts in her system with sighs and grunts and even laughter. At first it was hard to believe, knowing empirically how ill she was, that the rhythms of health were intact, often strong and potent. I had no idea what I was “doing” – I just observed and validated internal rhythms, which gradually spoke more and more clearly until I was able, at times, to tune into and be with the tide of her being. Those long sessions, often going late into the night, enabled Hilary to rest and sleep as nothing else could and soothed my own pain and confusion. Throughout, it was her health I was able to focus on. I was aware of the tumor and physical disintegration. But in cranial terms, what spoke was the life force maintaining integrity around, under, and in disregard of the alien vegetative growths.Our sessions were hard to start. Ploughing through my own fears, I would commit to the process in stages: Sit still long enough to feel my bum on the chair. Wriggle. Adjust the bed height. Find another pillow. Feel my bum on the chair again. Then, somewhat centered, my hands met her and her life forces met me, strong and sure. Throughout her illness we received great support from Park Attwood, an anthroposophical clinic whose doctors, nurses, and therapists work out of the insights of Rudolf Steiner, combining conventional and complementary therapies. Hilary spent the last six weeks of her life lovingly cared for there, and I was also able to have a room in the attic and be cherished and supported in the last part of our traveling together. While anthroposophical remedies and therapies helped, at times everything on offer seemed unequal to the task, as in this portion of a diary entry: Rose wakes me to come to Hilary, maybe 4am, still dark, she is thrashing about in agony. Her skin is greeny grey, stretched tight, lips hardly able to draw over her teeth, huge eyes filled with fear. It is hard to know where to touch her. I sit on the bed, feel her pelvis, drawn to the organs: Dry, massed, confused, they lie inert. I stay there, startled at first. I feel a wave of recognition and grief wash through me as I realize the reality of this perception: These organs have finished their work forever. Flow beneath that. Hilary is still writhing and gasping: “I can’t, I can’t…..” She starts to retch – all-absorbing convulsion, (then) the familiar rhythm, about two and a half breaths long, starts to drag my hands with it. She changes from “I can’t, I can’t” to “God help me.” God does and the potent tide, overriding the physical disintegration, takes precedence. Perhaps it is then that she starts to say “God help me.” She is still and soft and calm. My left arm, cradling her liver, is aching. I am washed by grief [and] a very immediate need to let go and pay attention to my own pain. I put a pillow under the spot to support the weight. “It’s heavy,” I say and I know she knows what I mean. Now I curl up on my chair in the corner. I review the miracle of the session and then return to bed. I only wake at ten thirty after deep refreshing sleep. She is still quiet when I visit. Maurice, her doctor and beloved friend, says the gut is rotting. This we both know. We have both come to a place of profound acceptance of this reality in the night. After that session there was a change in the quality of our contact, which began to take the form of a fairy story. At times we experienced timelessness, as shapes appeared, formed, and moved on. What words can encompass the enormity of the space that opens up where it no longer matters that this process points towards death for her, separation for me? I found myself following, as if in a living myth, the story of two women, one embarking in a small boat, the other left behind on the shore. It ended like this: The traveler got into the boat. Immediately the wind filled the sails and the little craft tugged at her moorings, straining to be on her way. The boat sailed out of the bay and across the open sea until it came to the Island of the Birds.

Here the traveller alighted. Then she looked around. There was no grass on the island. On the island were all the little birds she loved so much, wrens and robins, tits and finches. But there were also more frightening birds, geese and swans, crows and vultures. Slowly and sadly she made her way to the far shore of the Island and lay down. She had reached the end of everything she knew. And the birds came and picked the flesh off her bones until the cathedral vault of her ribs was laid bare. And slowly, tentatively, from out of the vault crept a tiny golden bird. For the one who stayed behind, the journey back took some time, but that is a story still unfolding.

In October 2003 Hilary died. I was with her as her spirit finally broke free of the clinging body and began to expand into the dimensionless realms of death. We were in craniosacral “communication” as she died. After her last breath, in the stillness, I became aware of floundering and confusion: “She doesn’t know she’s done it,” I said to her doctor and belovedfriend. “You must tell her,” he said. And I did. “Well done beloved, you’ve done it; don’t fight any more; you can go with this; allow yourself to go with the light. ”Over the next two days I experienced that expansion as she let go of the imprint of her bodily existence. Her body was laid out in the bed she had died in, beautifully dressed in blue silk. The body was smooth and immediately felt totally different from an animate body. Over the next two days I stroked it often, literally experiencing the clay vessel her life forces had created for her journey on earth. It became cold, much colder than the surrounding air. I was reminded of old fashioned china dolls. Then, after two days, she told me not to touch her body any more. She died on Sunday, just after the dark of the moon. On Thursday I accompanied her body to the crematorium and witnessed the beautiful process through glass spy holes in the oven door. I saw the shapes in her skull’s sutures. Achingly familiar, I saw the uneven pattern I had learned by heart, and later the cranial base of the skull was visible. The feeling I had was of looking down a tunnel into the processes that had held her life.

The cancerous side of her body burned away rapidly while the ribs on the healthy side were exposed like the roof timbers of a cathedral. It seemed poignantly relevant that her heart was on the side that disappeared. Later there was a mass of honeycomb filigree, the expression of the silica in the connective issue. Then, thinking the process complete, the technician, Martin, opened the oven door and, lying on the floor of the oven as a last gesture of love and laughter, her occiput 2 and sacrum 3 were still intact amidst the ashes. Those two precious handles that I had so often been in touch with in the long nights when she struggled with pain, cradling her tide between those two beloved bowls of bone, were now all that remained.

This article was adapted from an article originally published in Fulcrum, the journal for raniosacral therapy in the uk.