Just the other day a girlfriend told me a loved one in her life had metastatic cancer. I had the presence of mind to ask her if she’d been through this before – cancer; she said No. She also related she hadn’t been through death of someone close, yet. Over the course of the next forty minutes, we both shed some tears. What I believe, because I know this woman a bit and know some about her past, and know what kind of friends and spiritual practices she has in her life, is that this will be very good for her. And it will hurt very much.
All I have to offer is my own experience, or what others have related to me. I was remembering my dad got pretty low when his cancer returned. It’s like, we’d been all excited years back after he had his surgery (before I got married), and we were so relieved after he went through the gut-rending radio and chemo and all that. The surgery was deeply disturbing and it left him physically changed. Everything changed. He got back up to running but at times was too ill to do so (he was a long distance runner who adored the practice), he couldn’t even walk around in his tightie-whities anymore in the house, as he had a colostomy bag and was of course quite shy about that. His hair changed, his appetite changed. Our hopes for the future were smashed in some cases, or caught jaundice.
In the last year of his life the news just kept getting worse, I guess “worse” is a judgment – I guess what I mean is, we knew his time was ticking down. Anyway I remember visiting one afternoon and he was drinking this huge glass of wine and it was early in the day. My mom, dad, and I all drank alcoholically but my dad and I were a lot the same, drinking at night and rarely acting much different, at least to outside perceptions. Seeing him with a huge glass of Uncle Carlo, and him so quiet and depressed, it hurt. I talked to my mom later, likely unskillfully and without tact. But, I was just worried; it hurt to see him go through depression. The next day my dad showed up at my house and was all pissy. “You’re saying I’m drinking too much?” Believe it or not, this exchange meant a lot to me. We were talking about something real, something intimate. It seems like something families should do.
Some people in our lives viewed my father’s cancer and demise as some kind of pathetic tragedy or whatever. I never felt this way. I felt sad, but I didn’t feel piteous about any of it. My memory is, I felt so gifted to be given this time to reflect, and love and serve, and really really really appreciate my father (and the rest of my family). And yeah, it hurt. It hurt him, I know, in his way, and it hurt me in mine. It hurt lots of people, in their own way.
I was privileged to be there with him while he died. I nursed him and I took it seriously. I learned a lot. I remember the last thing my father ate. A plum. I got to learn, while his appetite waned, that you can’t “make it better” by fixing food. Food is a kindness but there comes a time we are beyond it.
I cry when I think about my father, because I loved him very much. Despite a lot of difficulties, I did well during his death. I don’t know if he did or not; only he can judge that.
Death is like birth, an incredible opportunity to live life and to experience the incredible gift.
In my “writings” section, which if you haven’t figured it out is where I’m more likely to be all opinion-y and uppity and tell people how to live their lives, I responded to a question posed: Is unschooling a form of anarchy? I wrote that thing fast, as I had kids swinging off my arms etc. Anyway.
A bonfire with friends, just the other day: