Category Archives: Death
That’s the phrase: Fighting Cancer. We call ourselves “warriors.” But is it really the cancer we fight? Sure, there’s an element of that, and I can’t speak to the whole range of waging war from first diagnosis to final dying breath. I’ve been lucky. But I’ve had cancer twice now, and I can speak to the war that I wage.
I fight fear.
I don’t want to live my life in fear. I want to live in love and light and joy. I don’t want melanoma to rob me of that. It may, sometime in the future, but not now. Now I am only Stage 1, for the second time, and still the fears begin to collect in the wee hours of the morning. And believe me, there is enough to fear.
With each thing I read, with each conversation I have with those who have only the finest of intentions, with every glance at the tumor on my shoulder, and soon the scar where the tumor used to be, the fear nibbles at my consciousness. People who love me say all the right things, but even “Good that you caught it so early,” sparks fears that I didn’t catch it early enough. “You’ll be fine,” translates to a slow, steady march toward an ugly black death.
It’s nothing to make a doctor’s appointment, to get an injection, an excision, an infusion. It’s nothing to get a scan and wait for the results. That is medicine battling cancer. My war is much different.
A wise person said to me not long ago: “The only struggles you will ever have are with yourself.” I have found that to be true then, and true every day since then. And so it is with fighting cancer. This is a struggle between me and me. Between my heart and my soul. What cancer does to my body I can do little about except hope to make the all the proper decisions at the appropriate moments.
Meanwhile, I wait for my surgery appointment and work hard not to torture myself or others. I try to educate people about sunscreen and sun protection and checking their moles regularly for changes. I want people to be screened regularly by their dermatologists. The problem is, the best way to get the attention of others is by revving up their fears. I show them the scar on my ankle (a 3” diameter skin graft), and catch myself saying, “Aren’t you glad that’s not on your face?” And I’m ashamed of myself for working so hard to keep the fear from my own mind while pouring it onto others.
Be kind to those who are fighting cancer, for their enemies are legion. For me, for today, I’ll let the doctors fight my cancer, and I’ll concentrate on fighting my fears.
I understand that you’re nearing the end of your journey here. We’ll miss you when you cross the threshold, but it won’t be that many years before I’ll see you on the other side. I know you don’t think that’s in the cards for us, but to my mind, this whole earthly experience would be meaningless if relationships weren’t carried on—for eternity, if we choose.
I hope you can look back on your life with great pride in your accomplishments and very few regrets. We’re all human, subject to the vicissitudes and frailties of human existence, but your unshakeable, unwavering faith in God has always been an inspiration to me, even as we all fall prey to our baser natures now and again. Take with you all your exquisite memories of joy and peace and family and love, and just leave the other memories behind. They’re the product of a material existence, and will have no reality in the next world.
I’ve come to understand that the veil between this life and the next is very thick and impenetrable when we’re young and it thins out as we grow older. Now, I expect, you’ve got a foot in both worlds now and then, perhaps even crossing over when you’re sleeping, and stepping back into this world when you awaken. Don’t be afraid to just look over your left shoulder at the light and walk toward it. There’s no reason for you to linger in a world of pain and disease. Your angels will help you make the transition if you ask them and then listen carefully for their instructions.
I believe that what you find there will surprise you; the next step on a marvelous eternal journey of love and universe adventure in our Father’s service. Grandpa is already there, and I hope you’ll look him up, or maybe he’ll be there to greet you. I’ll certainly look for you when I arrive, and we’ll have a nice time talking over old memories of our strange earthly association from the new perspective of spirit.
I’ll love you forever.
It’s been two years since my mother passed away, and every now and then I am blindsided by onrushing waves of grief that are so intense and severe that they verge on disabling. They don’t last very long, because I refuse to dwell in the guilt that always accompanies grief, but when they happen, they always surprise me.
My mother and I were good when she died. We had a stormy relationship from the very beginning, but by the time she breathed her last, we were good.
Last week I realized that the waves of grief stem from personal reflection and memories of things I wish I could apologize for. I’d like to just call her up and say, “Mom, I’m so sorry I was such a little shit.” But I can’t. She’s gone. And I have to live with the fact that there are years of amends I can no longer make to her. She never demanded or even asked for any kind of apology. She loved me with a parent’s unconditional love and affection, rewriting history in her mind as she grew older until we were all perfect children in her memory.
I have only to trust that I’ll see her again, and if those things are still important in that place where we’ll meet, I’ll have the opportunity to make it all good then.
In the meantime, these waves of grief and guilt are testimony not only to my enduring love for her, but my personal spiritual growth that allows me to reflect and realize these things. Wherever she is, I know she understands.
The death of beautiful, talented Natasha Richardson while on a skiing holiday with her sons is a tragic reminder of how fragile we are. I mourn this loss of a wonderful artist, as I’ve been a fan of hers for many years.
In school, as I study counseling strategies and learn the way we process grief, loss and bereavement, and explore cross-cultural difficulties in an ethnically diverse community, I am continually reminded of how fragile we are emotionally. There is scarcely a one of us over the age of thirty who doesn’t carry emotional and spiritual scars, if not raw, open wounds.
And yet we see ourselves as being strong, brave, and resilient.
But we’re not. Our bodies are not, our psyches are not, our hearts are not.
We would do well to remember our fragility in all these areas, and be good to ourselves, as it could all end in a moment, in a freak accident like the one who took this beautiful actress from us.
We need to be tender with one another, too. Just because my husband or daughter or best friend looks competent and strong and fearless doesn’t mean that’s the case. I better not compare the way they look on the outside with the way they feel on the inside, because I don’t really know how they feel.
Fragile, I imagine.
This is my first real experience with grief. I’ve lost beloved pets, of course, and grandparents. I’ve lost lovers, both to death and other things, and had my dreams and hopes dashed. But my siblings are alive and well as are my children and grandchildren. My dad still thrives and I still have one grandmother.
So with my mom passing away last Monday, I’m experiencing something new.
It was new to sit at her bedside for hours as her breathing slowed, talking to her about the grand adventure that awaited her on the other side, and all the people who were eager to welcome her there.
It was new to talk to my brother and sister from her room and hold the phone to her ear so they could say their goodbyes. She heard them, and died an hour afterward.
It’s new to have this physical feeling of grief that I’m carrying around in my chest. I’ve seen many people grieve, and am happy that I don’t carry around a load of guilt along with it. Usually, guilt accompanies grief in enormous doses. But my mom and I had made peace; I had made all necessary amends, and then some. We were good.
In addition to this physical grief, there are an incredible number of things to do, now that she is gone. I am really, really busy, tending to the things of someone newly passed away. I think this is part of the grand design. There are things to do so that we don’t sit and stew. There is a time for contemplation, a time for gathering of family, a time for personal, private grieving, and a time to get on with the business of the day.
My mother was elderly, and had been failing for two weeks, so this was not unexpected. Still, I was incorrect about every single thing I expected to happen in the process of death. In addition to witnessing the magic of death–the astonishing Cheyne-Stokes breathing–I’m experiencing the cleansing miracle of grief. Grief is a good thing.
What I did expect, however, was the outpouring of love from Mom’s myriad friends and loved ones, and it has been lovely. It is very touching, and allows them to express their grief over her passing, too.
But, in the long run, it’s my broad view of our roles as cosmic citizens that keeps me centered. If I thought I’d never see her again, my grief would be a completely different experience. But the fact that I am absolutely certain of where she is right now and when I’ll see her again not only makes this whole event a temporary one, but puts it all into context.
As I spoke softly to her at her bedside while she was busy dying, I congratulated her on living so well the entire human experience. She did a good job of it, and she did it all with gusto.
She heard me and agreed.
Death is just another part of the human experience, and now she’s done it all.
And I’ve got another cosmic merit badge.