Kaiyum reviews Anjee Gitte Carlsen’s recently published book, subtitled: When terminal illness enters your life.
Gunnar is in a process of letting go of life and I am in a process of letting go of Gunnar…
This very personal, intimately detailed narrative in diary-like style, describes the onset of Gunnar’s illness – later diagnosed as a brain tumour – his decline and ultimate death. As a highly-skilled therapist, perceptive and sensitive meditator as well as profoundly loving partner to Gunnar, Anjee is able to capture the precise essence of each phase of the process and record it… for her own healing, but also as a possible support for others who find themselves in a similar situation.
Perhaps in order to interest and attract a larger reading public, Anjee purposely avoids mentioning Osho and using Gunnar’s sannyas name (Habib). The insights that she has and what she and her dying partner learn about themselves and life are definitely worth sharing.
The day when Gunnar is sent home, one of the nurses […] says to me, “You must allow yourself to grieve the husband you have lost and then rejoice in the man you still have.” I know exactly what she means but have been unable to put it into words myself.
Their association with the nearby ‘meditation centre’ (Osho Risk) is a thread in the tapestry of this story, that describes both the onset of the tumour and his death as well as the purely spiritual-emotional learning that takes place as Anjee loses her man and Gunnar lets go of his body.
The story starts
Anjee purposely uses the present tense for her insightful, honest account of this challenging human journey that begins in this way:
Today it has been eight years and eleven days since Gunnar died. I sit at the dining table, where we often sat together, and look out into the garden. It is a mild, hazy winter morning. The birds are singing, as if spring is already here, and little aconites poke their yellow heads up out of the ground. A bit like when Gunnar was here… and yet completely different.
She sets the scene and moves on gradually to weave this story of love, attachment, physical deterioration, detachment, hope and despair.
The story includes many brief descriptions and insights that are jewels on the necklace of Life, powerful reminders of how we are all in some way connected to each other and to ‘something greater than each of us’:
For as long as I have known Gunnar, he has held the perception that there is a soul, or a core of consciousness in us, that has nothing to do with the body. Through his many years of meditating, he has met this core again and again, which is untouched by illness, suffering and death. I think that this familiarity with consciousness enables him to rest in contact with his soul, even though body and brain slowly deteriorate.
When I am in contact with this core in him, when I can see it in his eyes and feel his unchanged presence, I feel secure. When I am unable to feel it, but instead just a sick body and a brain that does not function, I feel lonely.
Such passages are a deeply nourishing gift of this touching story of life and death.
The story ends
Gunnar’s wishes are respected:
It is now July 5th, almost six months after Gunnar’s death. The urn with his ashes stands on the balcony in my house. We have been waiting for summer, so that Kaj, a seasoned sailor, can take us out in his boat, with the ashes. […] Every time I drive to Århus I look out over the bay and think “There Gunnar lies.”
And life moves on.
The English translation of the original book in Danish, At leve og at dø, is available through Amazon. The translation clearly needs some attention, but at the time of writing this review such a revision is being planned.
When I first went to Osho Risk – the meditation centre Anjee mentions – I stayed in Anjee’s house and of course met Kiki, the cat, who also features in the book. In 2002 I went to live in Denmark, a few kilometres from Osho Risk and Træden, and got to know Gunnar – Habib – well. He was a good friend to me. I left Denmark in November 2007 while he was already unwell. Habib died on 19 January 2009.
Read an excerpt
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