Thursday, February 21, 2013

Do I Need a Near-Death Experience to Become Bold and Grateful?

You don't need a near-death experience to become grateful, but it helps.  If the first one doesn't take, you might need two.  

In September, 2008, the spousal unit, Ron, ate some bad cheese at a resort in Quebec and developed a near-fatal case of listeria-meningitis.  Luckily, he was saved by massive amounts of antibiotics.  The doctors told me that if I had taken him to the hospital the night before, they probably would have sent him home.  If I had waited any longer, it would have been too late.

Ron was in the hospital for 10 days and came home wearing a portable antibiotic infusion pump for another 10 days.  For that period and the two weeks following, he was intensely conscious of his surroundings and grateful for his survival.  Every outing into the neighbourhood was wondrous:  colours were vivid and sparkling and people, plants, animals were all miracles of creation.

Then the wonder and gratefulness fell away with the autumn leaves and the winter of stress and anxiety returned.
Meanwhile, a post-recovery brain scan revealed a benign meningioma.  By March 2012, the meningioma had to be removed.  Ron seemed to recover quickly from the surgery, but two months later he had a setback and his condition became increasingly worse.  By September, he could barely function.  MRI evidence suggests his temporal lobe, left amygdala, and hypothalamus might have been "tickled" during the delicate surgery.  This might have affected his sleep, mood, memory, and motivation.

In December 2012, Ron began to recover.  This was accompanied by a new boldness and gratefulness, and it seems to be sticking.

Today we cycled out at 6:30 a.m. to watch the sunrise.  Ron adopted the persona of an Italian in the Tour de France and greets everyone with "Buongiorno."

"Buongiorno," he said to a lithe, long-haired jogger.  She smiled and said "good-day" back.
"I wish I had known this when I was 20," he said.
"Known how to be bold?" I asked.
"Yes, and grateful.  I was definitely not grateful when I was 20."

Do you need a near-death experience (or two) to remember to be grateful?


  1. Thanks Lil -- and Ron. Maybe this will help people be bold and grateful even without their own near-death experience.
    Ellen Jaffe

  2. Hi Lil. This is beautiful, beautifully written. I am thrilled to hear Ron is doing so well! What a wonderful turn of events. Love, Chaia

  3. Thanks for prompting me in the direction of this blog. I am grateful both for Ron's recovery and for my friendship with you and with him. It is so gratifying (a word that seems so apt here) to hear about the shift toward gratitude in his way of being. By the way, I like the fact that the words grace and gratitude are linked, and that grace (avec un accent circonflex) is in fact the word for thankfulness in French.

    I think after Alain died, I (immediately in some ways and eventually in others) came to an attitude of greater gratitude toward the blessings in my life (i.e. mostly the people I love and care about and those I have loved) but paradoxically both greater and lesser anxiety about losing them. But I definitely understood that the anxiety is great waste of time.

    When I saw you in Key West the first time, I had convinced myself I was gravely ill, and when I learned I wasn't, I felt of course relieved, elated and very, very grateful. I immediately felt much more appreciative of the world with its beauty and delights and experiences of all kinds but within a few months became aware of how it does wear off in a way, and petty concerns once again assert themselves. Nonetheless, I think these experiences lead to deeper transformations that are never really undone.

  4. I sure can relate to that as I had a near death experience when I was 22 and died six years ago but was saved only by the skill of my surgeon and his hard work.

    It certainly makes one appreciate the little things in life and above all, the people in one's life.

  5. from Stuart Berkowitz: Gratefulness does not require a near-death experience. As a scientist and nature lover, I expose myself to situations where my mouth hangs open in a state of AWE. This could be at the top of a mountain snowboarding or climbing, realizing a beautiful idea in math or science thru work, or taking a course, or reading, or seeing my grandchildren discovering knowledge and wisdom. Children grow and learn as if by magic. AWE leads to humility and this leads to happiness, for me. That AWE experience in my view that you and Ron felt is that he survived a near-death experience. But the humility and happiness follows however AWE is perceived.