I had breakfast with a friend who was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer.
She was told that she has about six months to live.
She wanted her bagel toasted, and decaf coffee. As long as she’s alive, she is alive. Toasted bagel is about living. Making a choice between decaf and caffeinated is about living, about hope.
She talked quite rationally about what the future holds for her. A very short future.
No, she doesn’t have a bucket list, but she looks forward to maybe visiting a dear and beloved friend in Salt Lake City. Hopefully, she’ll be able to make the trip. No other wishes before her death … just to be in touch with family and friends. That’s all.
She has always been very organized and methodical, so it wasn’t surprising to hear she’d thought about everything. No burial. Cremation. Maybe ashes in the desert. Maybe not. She loves the desert, but her deceased husband ashes were cast in the ocean, so probably the ocean. She doesn’t believe in life after death, so for her – this is the end. Everything is in place – the hospice and financial decisions, inheritance and the like.
She didn’t cry, but from time to time her eyes seemed moist. This was a good week, no chemo. We reminisced about working together years ago at the counseling center. This brought a smile to her face. It was nice to be able to make her smile. She has good memories of our work together. Yet, she is still upset about some past disappointment – I wish she’d let it go.
I wish she’d only have good experiences and enchanting recollections before she is not here. I wish she’d forget about those who annoyed her or disappointed her. I wish for the upsettedness to be swept away, and to have her soul filled with pictures of flowers and the beauty of nature – like those pictures she often emailed to me. I wish these would be the only images she would carry with her.
It was difficult for me to see her agitated. I felt very protective of all the minutes she has left. The minutes should only be filled with peace.
Is it possible?
On a recent Sunday, I came home after leading a group for family members of cancer patients. I was down and sad, and couldn’t stop thinking about how unfair everything is. Unfair? Unfair isn’t a word I use. Things were unfair until my early thirties, and then I understood that the world and its machinations has nothing to do with fairness. Fair has nothing to do with our lives.
And yet, on that Sunday night coming home from hearing devastating stories … feeling utterly helpless, I was struggling with the unfairness of it all. I said to my husband that the next time I complain about anything he should remind me how fortunate I am. He smiled and said fine.
But is it really possible?
The next morning someone annoyed me. I called my husband and complained. He didn’t remind me of my request the previous night, either because he had compassion for me, or he may have been preoccupied at work. He sounded sympathetic, and tried to be understanding. When I hung up the phone I remembered that I asked him to remind me how fortunate I am when I complain about trivial stuff.
My dying friend was complaining too, despite the fact that it doesn’t (or shouldn’t?) make a difference to her anymore. I guess we do that till our last living breath.
René Descartes comes to mind …
I complain, therefore I am. Or, is it – I am, therefore I complain?