Tag Archives: death

At the End of Episode 16

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I recently read an article about a favorite TV series. It featured an interview with the actor who plays a character that died of stomach cancer in the most recent episode. When asked if he knew when his character was going to die, he said not exactly – only that it was coming soon. And then it happened, at the end of Episode 16.

This really struck a chord with me, as I was recently diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. I’ve spent almost a year adjusting to the idea that I have a terminal illness, and will most likely die as a result of it. But I don’t now just when, or just how. The best terminology I’ve heard for this is “living with uncertainty.”

I’ve gone through the shock, the “woe is me” feeling, and sometimes, in a clear-headed moment, on a very sunny day, the acceptance. I went through the motions, making an advance directive and a will, putting my affairs in order, as much as they’ll ever be. I was agonizing over the unknown, and then it hit me. Everyone should do this, BEFORE Episode 16.

No one lives without uncertainty, do they? There’s always that possibility of a car accident, illness, natural disaster, or just plain old age that will take each and every one of us, at some point. They say none of us gets out of this alive. But most of us don’t want to think about the unknown – the inevitable. It’s messy. We like to think we’ll live forever, or just not think about it at all.

So, in order to get my head around this, take care of those end of life decisions and move on with my life, I decided it’s sort of a bonus to know. It narrows down the what-ifs quite a bit. It forces me to focus on doing what I want to do – on doing whatever I can to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

It also forced – no, allowed me to make some changes in my life. I had to quit working – something I thought I’d never do. It was a difficult decision – I’ve always worked, and now, I just couldn’t keep doing it. I thought it was my first loss in this disease. But now I don’t know how I ever had the time to work! I’ve shifted my time towards pursuing my interests, volunteering at my local library and elementary school, spending time with friends, traveling and enjoying my life.

Sure, I’m constantly reminded of my illness and its limitations. I can’t do as much as I used to. Sometimes I’m just too tired, and sometimes pain and other side effects of medications interfere with my activities. But most of the time I’m grateful to be living my life, because I know that Episode 16 is just lurking there, somewhere in my future, just as it does for us all.

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Missing What I Missed

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Last Friday would have been my mom’s 98th birthday. I know this will sound a bit creepy, but try to get past that with me. It dawned on me a few years ago, that she likely wouldn’t have lived this long. And that somehow made me feel sort of like it was ok now, since she’d likely have died by now, and I could miss her a little less than I have for so many years. My mom died when I was just a month shy of 14. I was a very young, naïve almost 14 year old. It was a tough time to lose your mom…as if there’s any good time to lose your mom.

Through those many years, I’ve missed my mom for so many reasons. All the big things I went through without her advice or support…”becoming a young woman”, first crush, driving, dating, graduating, college, first job, first car, getting married, getting divorced…just about everything. When I was young, I missed her emotionally, but when it came to the everyday things, I just went on, because that’s what I thought everyone sort of expected of me. I didn’t stop to think too much about what I was really missing.

But as I’ve gotten older, and started looking at it from an adult perspective, I’ve realized some things. I never really got to know my mom as a fellow grown-up. I never got to talk her about her childhood, her romance with my dad, her young adult years, or her marriage. I didn’t get to ask her advice about the major, or minor, decisions I faced. I didn’t get to cry on her shoulder when the guy I had a huge crush on didn’t even give me the time of day. She didn’t get to meet the man I wanted to marry, and give her approval. She didn’t help me decide what I wanted to be, or see me graduate from either high school or college. And she never knew about the jobs I took over the years, or the work I did. She never got to see me teach.

We missed out on hanging out together as adults…going shopping, eating lunch somewhere, having coffee and a good, long talk. We didn’t get to discuss politics, religion, or the environment. I don’t know what her favorite things were…songs, foods, books. I have only limited knowledge of what she liked, because she probably cooked those foods for us, or sang us those songs, but it was from the perspective of a child.

There are so many things I would love to ask her…how did you meet Dad? How did you know you were in love with him? What kind of jobs did you have? What did you like to do with your girlfriends? What was your favorite song? What kind of books did you like to read? Were you happy being a mom?

And then we move into a very difficult piece of this whole mind game. Mom died of breast cancer, and when I was diagnosed, there was a rush of many more questions I would love to be able to ask her. And a whole wave of realization of what she must have gone through. In a weird way, thinking about her battle made mine a bit easier to handle. I knew I had technology and time passed on my side. She probably had very little hope back then. And I kept telling myself, “If she could fight it, so can I.”

I didn’t mean for this piece to get all sad and bring everyone down. I just wanted to share this realization with you because it’s very intriguing to me. I compare it to a situation where when a young child dies, we can only remember them as a child. And when your mom dies when you are young, you only remember her from your child’s perspective. I happen to believe that my mom, and those others that have passed on, can somehow know how I’m doing. And I know I still have lived my life based on what they taught me, and what they passed on to me in an indirect way. And that gives me great comfort. I’d love to be able to ask my mom what she thinks of my blog, but I’ll just have to assume she’d somehow let me know if she thought it sucked.

 

Dead or Alive?

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I’ll be the first to admit that my memory suffers with the passing of every year, and especially so since going through chemo last year. But I discovered this particular memory issue many years ago, when my brain was still young and spry. When it comes to the mention of famous people, I often can’t tell you if they are dead or alive.

 

This week, I heard that we lost two famous people…Shirley Temple, and Sid Caesar. I admit it…I thought both of them were already gone. I guess it makes the shock easier to handle, and the grief less of a load, but it’s embarrassing to be totally unsure if someone well-known to all is dead or alive. I’ve discussed this with friends and some of them also suffer from this phenomenon. I’ve even gone so far as to search the web to see if others suffer from this memory weakness, and was surprised to find many websites dedicated to informing us about the status of famous people. Some of them even make a game of it. So, I’m guessing that many of us have an issue with remembering who we’ve lost.

 

It started me thinking…why do we forget which famous people are dead and which are still alive? We certainly don’t forget which of our relatives and friends are dead or alive, do we? And I can keep track of which community members have passed on, even though I might not have been that close with them. Maybe it’s a distance thing…we’re not close with those celebrities, so we’re not paying attention. Or maybe because we associate famous people with the age they were when they were most famous, we always think of them at that age, and keep them alive in our minds, and never consider that they could be nearing death. Or maybe the opposite is true…we know they were famous when we were very young, so we assume that since we are getting older, they must be dead by now.

 

I can’t explain it, but I do know that Elvis is dead. Or is he?