Reflections on the Breath


Bring your awareness to the breath. Without judgement and without attempting to change it in any way, simply notice the breath.

I have a confession. I often find myself thinking, “Enough about the breath already. What’s the big deal?” My yoga teachers explain that the breath, prana, is the vital life force. We can survive for a short time without food or even water, but without the breath we die. I understand the importance of the breath on a theoretical level, but I can’t seem to summon the kind of passion my teachers possess.

I complete the exercise anyway. There is tension in my jaw. The breath catches in my throat. My Adam’s apple feels like a boulder obstructing my airway. Small, shallow breaths fill my lungs, high up in my chest. My stomach is in knots. I feel sick. Nothing is happening down there.

I watch Paul Kalanithi walk into the room. Of course it’s not actually Paul, the author of When Breath Becomes AirBut I think of Paul. I think of all the schooling this man has been through, all the hours he’s spent training, practicing, tuning his skills on the job. I wonder how long he’s been working since his last break and how much sleep he got last night. He looks tired.

I listen carefully to the words he chooses. He has trouble maintaining eye contact. I can’t help but think Paul would do a better job with this.

“Out with it!” I want to say.

And then he says it.

“Of course we could operate. But there’s always the question of should we.” There’s character in these words. Like they were strung together with care and consideration. Clear, yet gentle enough. They are the right words to say in a situation like this. This isn’t the first time this man has said these words and he will use them again. Surely Paul wrote them down as well, blessing them with ink.

A blast of oxygen fills the bag attached to the mask that covers my father’s nose and mouth. It sounds like he’s snoring, and I wonder if his tongue is getting in the way. He’s working hard to breathe.

I try to relax my jaw. I tell myself to breathe deeply. I make an effort to fill my belly. I notice that I am alive and breathing.

Over the next several hours they will gradually reduce the amount of oxygen feeding my father’s mask. Soon he will die.

*     *     *

With love to my father, who passed away last Tuesday, January 31, 2017.

May his breath become the air that fills us with life.

14 thoughts on “Reflections on the Breath

  1. Remember there is no right way or wrong way to handle this process. There is just your way. I can not believe your path at this time would take your father so can seem very cruel at times. My heart goes out to your family, you and very certainly your mom..i send you all sooo much strength and heart to keep on.


    1. Thank you Maurissa ❤ Especially for the first two sentences. Without getting into the details, I have been feeling a little guilty for some of my feelings. This is a comfort to hear.


      1. I remember feeling some of that and then some..i would be happy to share if you ever need a bit more comfort during a tough day 🙂


  2. Deat Laura, Your dad was such a good man. May you and you mom be blessed by sharing some of hIs spirit ( breath) now!


  3. Laura, how did I miss this post until you linked it in today’s post?

    Anyhow, wow. It’s hard to write in words how much my heart aches for you. Why is life is so cruel and unfair sometimes? You are amazing for being able to write about the most painful events of life so eloquently. My heart and thoughts and prayers and hugs go out to you. I’m so sorry for your loss.


    1. Thanks Kari ❤ I really am doing better than what you might imagine given everything that’s going on. And thank you for the super kind compliment. My goal is to write as truthfully as I can, as simply as I can. Can’t say I always succeed but the closer I get the better it typically turns out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: