Aug 02 2010

Cancer Chronicles: Denying Death’s Due

Had a conversation with a friend yesterday that was interesting (as all of my friends are).  She mentioned that she thought she had been in a lot of denial in the few weeks leading up to my surgery when I was, essentially, dying.   That she just refused to think about how sick I actually was and what that meant.

I agreed with her, remarking that even though I knew what was going on, I wasn’t articulating it, to others or myself.  Facing likely death, having chosen life over and over since my birth, I relied upon the strength of the genetic impulse, the need of “life” to persist.  I did not deny what was happening to me; I calmly went about the “last rites” of preparing my will and medical power of attorney documents, contacting family and friends and spending time together where possible, paring down to what absolutely mattered for survival.

That last week, what mattered most was the other people, the wonderful loved ones that kept coming over, vigil-like, to share their time and witness my living, witness my life burning up every resource in my body to remain here.  That last week, I’d run out of energy.  The will to persist was there but the flesh was finally faltering.  When that strength left, there was always someone else’s to take up the slack, someone else’s presence to remind me of why it was so important to continue breathing, to deny Death’s right to take me.

It was only after surgery, when my body was free to finally start healing and bringing life fully back into me, that I was able to directly face the cold fact that I had almost died, that I now had an insider’s perspective on what dying felt like.  Death walks at our shoulders from the moment we draw breath, and part of the vibrancy of life comes from how easy it is to forget that fact, to live as if we’ll live forever.  I read a lot of denigration of that illusion/delusion, and I can certainly see where it gets our species in trouble to follow it.  But I can tell you that it’s part of why we are still here.  Because we are sometimes able to face death’s certainty and not just laugh in its face, but deny its power over us when it matters.

Of course, the other side of the spent coin for those of us who have refused Death’s surcease directly is that we never again get to share the illusion of Death’s absence with our fellow humans.  But that’s complicated enough that it should probably have its own post, another day.  Fearless Reader thoughts or shared experiences?  Please comment here!

One Response to “Cancer Chronicles: Denying Death’s Due”

  1. Mary Basson 03 Aug 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Being different and isolated from others, including loved ones, due to health problems is a difficult path to walk. I’ve had death hanging over my head in a number of instances and at some points have been told that my time on earth was to be short. So far, I’ve proved the medical people wrong on this score. To see people around me move in normal ways, ways I’ve forgotten within myself, is a source of wonder and sometimes sadness. Those around me can’t truly understand, no matter how much they care for me, that I’m in constant pain and what that means and what it’s like to suffer the crushing of heavy fatigue all the time and that there is never a complete adjustment when limbs won’t work properly or my mind won’t do what I wish it to do. The “being alone” factor is not a good place to be but there’s no way around it as, thankfully, friends and family can’t really “get” where and how I live every day.

    A poem I wrote a few years ago that’s been published, is in the office of my primary care physician, and hangs in two hospitals in Manchester, England is an explanation.

    A Bridge Too Far

    With eyes that see each length and width
    of all we choose to view,
    we cannot know of the eyes
    that capture no shape or hue.

    With legs that travel near and far
    wherever we command,
    there’s no way we can fathom
    those who cannot stand.

    With arms that do flex and stretch
    with ease while at no cost,
    we lack the understanding
    of those with functions lost.

    With words and nodding heads,
    the signals that we show,
    we think we are informed
    when there’s nothing we can know.