Lillas Hatala: Opening to Grace
Lillas Hatala knows what it is to bend and not break.
To be lost and found.
To be cracked open and thrust into the luminous expanse of wholeness.
In the past three years, Lillas has journeyed to the ragged edge of sadness, loss, and grief, and instead of toppling into the dark abyss, she somehow found solid ground … a knowingness that settled her soul and revived her joy.
“I have faced cancer three times in three years. In the middle of it all, I lost my beloved husband Rick, my rock in life and my rock in this cancer journey. It really has been a lot. I had moments of such despair, wondering how can I possibly take all of this?” she said. “But then something happened … something profound and wonderful. I learned to surrender to God. To relax into it. To strive for peace instead of purpose. To stay in the moment because that’s where the grace is.”
Lillas shares her moving story of cancer, more cancer, cancer during Covid, loss; and her profound resurfacing to find grace in the quiet space of just being. Read Lillas’s incredible account of the first two and a half years of her cancer odyssey in Devastatingly Beautiful, published this past April (2022) in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
“Everyone has a story that cracks their heart open … this is mine.”
Turning the Page
At the end of December 2021, one year after losing her husband, Lillas learned that her cancer was back for a third time. It was a devastating blow during a period of deep grief. Immediately she became very ill and a new regime of chemo was prescribed.
The first time facing cancer, Lillas dropped everything, including her professional expression which she loved, to devote herself 100% to her healing. Her routine included yoga, meditation, prayer, juicing, and gratitude practice. The second time facing cancer, she doubled down on her spiritual and meditation practices.
“This time I felt a whole new level of vulnerability layered on top of my shock,” she said. “I asked God what more can I do to be healthy and whole? The answer was … rest, relax for the pure joy of it. Find meaning in being not doing. Surrender. ”
By the end of February 2022 the chemo was doing its job. Cancer was diminishing and Lillas was starting to feel a glimmer of hope. She once again lifted her eyes to the sky. Something was drawing her to the mystery of her precarious journey.
“Losing my beloved Rick was the greatest loss and grief of all. Still, I was overwhelmed with gratitude at having experienced this grand love in my lifetime. I had a profound sense that love is eternal,” she said.
Along with trusting her medical team, Lillas leaned into her lifetime practices of yoga and meditation. In the beginning it was hard to find her way back to the quiet spaces in her mind, but in time she regained her centre of gravity – a reliable bedrock in her cracked open heart.
It was in these still moments that Lillas experienced a transformation.
“There was this release. A knowing that all of my past has brought me to this precious sacred moment. With that came an expansion that seemed to drop me into a deeper level of who I am,” said Lillas. “And then, there it was … the quiet bubbling up of joy.”
Wellspring in the Wings
Lillas knew about Wellspring for years before she encountered cancer in her own life path. She and her husband Rick joined Wellspring for support and to enjoy yoga programs in 2015 when Rick was diagnosed with cancer and successfully treated.
“We knew exactly where to turn for support” she said. “Rick’s sister Suzanne was working there at the time, so we were well aware of all the programs and benefits offered in this community.”
Over the years since her own diagnosis, Lillas has found great solace in the Wellspring community, and she continues to enrol in a multitude of programs ranging from yoga, creative journaling, and speaker events, to nutrition classes and energy sessions.
“There is such are tremendous range of programming, and so many things that appeal to me, it’s wonderful! I check the program email every Friday and there is always something I’m interested in taking. I so appreciate this resource and the fact that there is no barrier to attend,” she said.
Lillas has been especially grateful to access programs online during the pandemic, but when she is strong enough, she plans to get back to the hub of warmth and personal support at Wellspring centres.
“You really do feel like you are a part of one big family there. You get a coffee or tea and sit down and talk with others. If you’re walking around with no hair – no problem. You feel like you are with your soul sisters and brothers and you know you are so much more than your cancer.”