Our Bodies


Sally Mann: Self Portrait with Husband Larry

On Halloween Day, I stood at the kitchen counter prepping for a healthy dinner (an attempt to offset the outrageous amount of candy my children would surely be consuming later that night) when something stopped me in my tracks. I was listening to an NPR interview with hospice chaplain Kerry Egan, who was discussing life, death, and the strength of the human soul. Life and death and the strength of the human soul is on my mind every year around this time as the anniversary of my father’s death runs like an undercurrent, like background music to my autumn.

But what stopped me was less about death, and more about life. About how we take for granted our beautiful, functioning, healthy bodies, and what someone who is dying can teach us about loving those bodies. From the transcripts:

EGAN: The woman who really shocked me the most was young. She was in her 40s. I’m in my 40s, you know? She was my age. And she was dying. And she had two young children and a husband. And we were in this – she was in the hospital. Some hospice patients if you can’t control their symptoms are actually seen in an inpatient unit, so sometimes when people talk about like a hospice house that’s an inpatient unit. And sometimes those inpatient units are freestanding, and sometimes they’re in a hospital. And this woman – her pain was so bad that that couldn’t be controlled at home which that’s saying a lot. And that’s the kind of pain she – this woman was in. And so she’s in the hospital, and the room was dark. The room was dark because she couldn’t even stand light.

And she said, you know, more than anything else what I’m going to miss – it’s not my children and it’s not my husband. It’s my own body. She was like I – I remember she was holding up her hands and this like very gray light coming through the screen on the window. And she was holding up her hands looking at her hands, and she said I have to leave it no matter what. No matter what I have to leave this body. Like I can rage against it. I can be angry. I can bargain with God. I can do everything I can, and there’s no getting around it. I have to leave my body and this – and remember she’s in enormous pain right? She’s in like bone cancer pain. I mean, she’s in pain.

And she takes her hands, and she just starts like rubbing her arms, you know. And she’s like rubbing her chest, and she rubs her face. And she says and I love this body, this body that, you know, went swimming and had sex and made my babies. She was like my body made other human beings. She’s like and I have to leave it. And she said I’m just going to miss my body so much. And I never even appreciated it. I never appreciated it until now when I’m in like an excruciating pain and can’t even stand the light. And I have to give it up. And, you know, as a young woman myself that kind of changed everything. That changed everything for me.

Let us mothers in particular let go of the harsh perceptions we have about our bodies, our scrutinizing eye for imperfection, for the disdain of flabby bellies and fat ankles. Those bellies carried life. Those ankles carry us all day where we want to go, without complaint, just doing what they do. These bodies, may we cherish the time we have within them.

8 thoughts on “Our Bodies”
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  1. Thanks for sharing this; it’s incredible powerful. It resonates with what I experience from time to time on a much less existential scale pulling a muscle from carrying my children or feeling a cold creeping up and knowing that my nose will stop breathing for a while.

  2. That interview stopped me in my tracks when I heard it. I had such a visceral reaction to it. I remember those first few days after the surgery on my feet, when I wasn’t able to walk and the pain was so intense. I really felt like I had a reawakening at that point – as I started physical therapy, I can remember feeling so proud of my toes for simply bending a few degrees more than they bent the day before. From that point on, I feel so differently about the way I move within my body. I’m much less likely to scan the surface for imperfections, and much more likely to address any minor ache or pain with movement and care. Maybe it’s also a factor of time and age – and yes, speaking about being a woman in her forties really spoke to me – but I love these years more than any others. I think I appreciate my body’s responses to everything – particularly when I push it to some limit I previously thought out of reach. I know I took it for granted before.

    I think I would feel the way that woman felt if presented with the pain and imminent leaving of this body. I think that’s why I reacted in the way that I did when I heard it.

  3. Lauren. Cousin-in-law Sara here. I haven’t read your blog in ages and something led me to look it up today. I was driving back from an outreach clinic on Monday and listened to that interview. I actually had to pull over I was having such a physical response to that exact portion you referenced. I love that I just came here and got another reminder of that message. Thank you, and hope you and the family are well!

    1. Wow, Sara! What a small world, and how touching that we were listening to the same thing at the same time, touched by the same words. Thank you for taking the time to write. Hope you and your family are well, too!

  4. This is so beautiful. Thank you. I know this is an old blog post, but I stumbled upon it and wanted to thank you.

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