The Hierarchy of Existence

Hissing. Blowing. In.Out. Compression. Expansion. Beep. Beep. Whoosh. Dink, dink the vital sign machine carries on – the leader of the orchestra.

In comes the nurse. Out goes the doctor. In comes the lab tech. Out goes the catheter. In goes a tube. Out goes the blood. Depending on the patient’s lab results, diagnosis and pain threshold, medications, specialists, more machines and other noises will be added. Then subtracted. One by one, until the patient, goes home or to heaven. The hierarchy of disease.

Hospital rooms have become almost like hotels to me. I have seen enough of them now to know where the extra stash of linens are and where lukewarm coffee is on tap. I know which one is modern and which one could use an overhaul. I know where the vending machines are;I have a bag of quarters at the ready. I know where I can watch the clock stand still. All through the night, every day. Weeks on end.

My family has turned into “them.” As in; “Wow what a story. How do you think they are holding it together? How does a family cope with the devastating diagnosis of cancer? Can’t even imagine what that is like.” Now we know. We also know that we are pretty darn lucky, all things considered. The hierarchy of life.

Sleep has taken on a new meaning as well. I can only speak for myself, but I stopped getting a good’s night rest the night I received the phone call.

“It’s cancer. When are you coming home?”

Ten hours later, after two hours of sleep and an inconvenient business meeting, I made a quick stop at my doctor’s office.

“What can I do for you today,” Doc said with a smile.

“I have to go home. I don’t know how long I will stay. I do know that I can’t handle this. It’s my family. Cancer has come knocking. They need my help.”

That’s when my waterworks finally broke through the wall of “no emotion” I hide behind.

Doc handed me a tissue. Doc gave me a hug. Doc wrote out two scripts. One for an anti-depressant. One for medication that would hopefully calm my nerves.
Doc also wrote a personal script for my subconscious, otherwise known as my inner child.

It said:

“Julie needs compassion, understanding, and a helping hand. Her load is almost as heavy as her heart.
Give her lots of water. She will need that to combat the dehydration that will set in from crying so hard.
Her heart is breaking, be gentle.
She act’s as if she can take it. She is trying to be brave.
The reality though is that she is fragile.
She is scared.
She has to finally grow up.
She is now traveling along the caregiver’s path, a dangerous road with lots of blind spots and hairpin turns.
Please be patient with her.
Handle with care.
Please don’t judge.
Hold her tight.
Please wipe away her tears.”

The hierarchy of needs. Everyone has them. Sometimes it is hard to decipher who needs life support and who will be the first one to give up and head on over to the other side.

Later that night I took the first of what has turned out to be many red-eye flights cross country, due east.

It happened to us. We are just like “them.” I am told that it is called “life.” I guess I was not living before. I was not taking it all in. I was not acknowledging the importance of time or how finite our season on Earth is.

Hope. Tenacity. Belief. Patience. The hierarchy of coping.

I am reminded every day that I spend in the hospital of the power of positive thoughts. I can hear sanguine words with every beep, whoosh, expansion, and dink dink the vital sign machine makes. I see the other families clinging to them for dear life, as the used tissues gather into moist mounds in the trash bin.

Pain. Grief. Emptiness. The hierarchy of emotion.

A veil of ineffable feelings so thick it shrouds you when someone you love is fighting the temptation to give in and give up.


I now know what that sentiment means. It hurts. It is beautiful. It is life itself. The hierarchy of existence.

Photo: ©Julie Anderson All Rights Reserved

Julie Anderson

Julie Anderson is the Creator and Publisher of Feminine Collective. Julie was inspired to create this safe place for women to share their secrets, desires, triumphs and pain as the antithesis of what mainstream media offers women today. In her column Pursuit of Perfection, she explores the importance of rectifying the balance of inner and outer beauty through essays, poems and articles on self-esteem, shame, family, and self- acceptance.

  1. Julie Anderson

    I don’t know how you survived.
    I do know – now I know – that pain is always beautiful. I don’t know if that makes sense to others, I think you understand.
    Tell me more!!! Goddesses… I want one.
    Thank you Angel.

  2. Julie Anderson

    Chris –
    Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I appreciate your kindness. Sorry to hear that you recognize this story. I wish everyone had a doctor like mine! He is one in a million – that’s for sure.


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    It’s a terrible initiation, isn’t it? I’m sorry you have to endure it, Julie. You captured the images of this terrible world. I’m glad you did, but I’m deeply sorry you have to be in that world at all. I walked with my husband during his diagnosis, chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, 24 hours of repeated cardiac arrests caused by a reaction to a medicine or by lymphoma in the heart (who will ever know?), and a two-year dismantling of his strong fit body. I had many inner tools to help, including a long history of mythological work with the goddesses that descend, but Rilke’s ‘Sonnets to Orpheus’ convinced me I could find moments of kindness or beauty or love at the worst times. This practice held me together. Even in darkness, we found moments of light.

  4. Julie Anderson

    Dear Kathy,

    I am thrilled that you can also see the beauty that wraps around pain. I am so sorry for you loss of ones that you loved. Thank you for keeping me in your thoughts.

    With gratitude-

  5. Julie Anderson

    Thank you for your prayers Jessica. Frankly, I am not strong at all. I am hovering some place other than my body. Surreal I know, once I touch base with my feelings I crumble.


  6. Julie Anderson

    I never knew. Really I had no idea why or how cancer can literally suck the life force from a person. With my new found knowledge, I have respect. I see. I know. The why of it alludes me. As per hate, I agree.

  7. Julie Anderson


    It is the worst. Young, old – it does not matter. I don’t think the word “pain” even covers the true feeling. Know what I mean?
    Best to you and yours.

  8. Julie Anderson

    Indeed we are. Not being able to help – really help – I think, is the hardest part of this raw deal.
    I appreciate that you took the time to comment by the way – means so much.


  9. Julie Anderson


    I am sorry to hear of your loss. I Love You. We take those three words for granted, yet they are the most precious gift we can give and receive.

    I wish you peace and a happy heart. One day soon, I hope.


  10. Julie Anderson

    Annie –
    I am in awe. YOU survived. Your willpower must be incredible. Thank you for leaving your thoughts and love for me here. I appreciate the gift.


  11. Avatar

    You powerful use of words to express your inner feelings, struggles, emotions and changes has left me at a loss for words. Cancer is something that has a lasting impact on everyone it touches in any way. I pray your strength and encouragement. Thank you for sharing something so personal with us.

  12. Avatar

    Cancer is such an ugly word. Seems it visits every family too. It took my grandmother far sooner than I would have liked.

  13. Julie Anderson

    Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my essay. I am sorry to hear that you are a caregiver as well. I do not have the instruction manual. Do you?

    I wish you strength and many moments of joy – we are blessed that we can acknowledge them.

  14. Julie Anderson

    Thank you for your heartfelt comment. I know you are with me, you are a true friend. Your prayers are gratefully accepted. Regarding the sharing of my private feelings, I can’t stop myself. I believe that through sharing, we show that we care. The simple acts of exchanging thoughts, ideas, sorrow and happiness help all involved and the world at large. It is the beauty of being human – flaws and all.
    Bless your heart always-

  15. Julie Anderson

    You are always so generous with your compliments. I appreciate your encouragement; I can not begin to tell you what it means to me. Exhausting, yes. The autopilot has kicked in. You are right, haunting … now I am haunted.

    Best –

  16. Avatar

    This was haunting to read, I am so sorry to hear about the cancer it must be so difficult but it sounds like you have an amazing support network, especially your doctor. Keep being strong hun xx

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    What a beautiful post. I have lost a few to cancer, so this was a lovely post for me to read. You’re in my thoughts and you sound like a very strong person. Keep your head up.

  18. Avatar

    This is why I hate cancer. I can’t stand it when I hear that friends and relatives are going through such a tough battle. It’s so important to have people who support you along the way but at the same time, you have to be brave too.

  19. Avatar

    I hate to see people suffer from cancer. The pain is deep, I know, we’ve been there too. It is so hard to cope up especially if you lose someone.

  20. Avatar

    Your writing is an inspiration, even if you are in this situation, you never failed to inspired. I hope everything turned out well.

  21. Avatar

    I have a friend who is suffering from cancer and it is not easy. You can see the struggles and the pain one person is going through.

  22. Avatar

    Love, strength and prayers as you enter this journey. It’s hard to comprehend the emotional undertaking unless someone has walked that road.

  23. Avatar

    It’s hard to know what to say.
    We are so fragile and yet so strong in the face of all that life dishes.

    My father in law died of cancer a few weeks ago.
    I am still processing. So is my husband.
    It is good to have enough time to say I love you.

    My friend was rush to the hospital and to surgery and never woke up….so sudden. And no I love you.

    But indeed, a very poignant post.
    Thanks for sharing.

  24. Avatar

    How does one sum up what they feel after reading this? How does one even comment anything profound, something no one else has said. How does one sum up what they even THINK? So many things, yet nothing that would matter truly. I am sorry for your struggle – truly I am. Those who say “at least you have your health” well some of us do not have that – and it sucks!

  25. Avatar

    You have shown strength, dedication, and so much love to your family Julie. These are testing times for you and I wish I could help you battling through all this. I can only remember you in my prayers and try to be there anytime you need to talk, laugh, fight, etc…thank you for sharing your most private feelings, you’re an inspiration.

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