learning about death (and life)

Part of this journey that I’ve been on, since that fateful day of December 20, 2007, is learning about life, what life is really about, what life’s priorities really are, and also learning about death. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately — death — yes, partly because I have an incurable illness. I know that’s something that would upset certain people in my life, but I simply can’t apologize for that. I know they want me to think positively, but this isn’t about expecting myself to die at any certain time.

I don’t know exactly what it is. I suppose it’s a great desire to come to terms with death, whenever it does come. The thing is, I will die. Maybe not in five years, maybe not in nine years. Maybe I’ll outlive the prognosis and live for another twenty years or thirty to forty years. Or maybe I’ll live for five years. The thing is, No. One. Knows. No matter how much people think they know, no matter how much people BELIEVE, nobody — not even my oncologist — knows my future. The only thing that’s certain is that I won’t get out of this life alive. None of us will. I just think I’m much more aware of that fact than most people are because of my medical condition.

So I’m on a quest to learn about death. To become more comfortable with death, with the idea of death and dying, because I think that once I become more comfortable with death, I’ll be able to let go of my fear of death and be able to truly live.

In the book Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality, Pauline W. Chen, states:

As Freud wrote, “[I]n the unconscious every one of us is convinced of his own immortality.” It is nearly impossible as we go about our daily duties to talk about our lives as finite. Nonetheless, it is only by taking on these discussions that we can ensure our patients — and our loved ones — a good death, however each person may define that. Freud went on to say:

“We remember the old saying: Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you desire peace, prepare for war. It would be timely thus to paraphrase it: Si vis vitam, para mortem. If you would endure life, be prepared for death.”

Preparing for death may be the most difficult exam of all, but it is the one that will, finally, free us to live.

This seems to be what I want, need to do. If not prepare, then at least learn about death. Not because I believe I’m going to die in the 5-9 years that the oncologist once said was my prognosis. I don’t know when I’m going to die, and truth be told, neither does she. All I do know is that I am going to die . . . someday. Most likely, I’ll die of my cancer. I’d like a good death. I’d like to be at peace with the fact that I’m going to die . . . someday. If I can find that peace, somehow, some way, then I think I can find more peace in the life that I have now.

I find that peace sometimes. I’ve written of it. I’ve had it, but it’s eluded me lately. I know I’ve had surgery, I’ve been back to work, I’ve lost a breast — and perhaps all of these things contribute to my sense of unease, to my mind going back to the “dark thoughts” that lead to the tears near the surface, that make me weepy one minute and cranky the next. I’ve tried to tell myself that this will pass, that I just need time. But then this wanting to face down this fear comes up, no matter what others may think, no matter how they may react or what they might read into it, and I had to look into it. Yes, it may pass. Yes, I may be grieving my lost breast. Yes, it may all be mixed into going back to work and losing a body part. But the fact is, I still won’t get out of this world alive. Even if I didn’t have Stage 4 cancer, that would be true.

It’s time to face death and make it not seem like such an enemy. It is, after all, a part of life. A part of everyone’s life. I want to understand it. I’m not sure that I’ll become its best friend, but I want to learn why it’s so frightening, why we run from it, and if it’s keeping me from living fully in the time that I do have — whether that’s five years or fifty.

Free myself to live.


I can only hope

that the lessons

will begin.

Cross-posted to Just Enjoy Him.


2 Responses to learning about death (and life)

  1. […] to Mothers With Cancer. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Unexpected death while travelingInterview Of The […]

  2. Sometimes we have to work our way through something, to come out past it.

    I remember the day I turned to my husband and said “I know how I’m going to die.”

    He answered that we never know. And he’s right, of course. But, statistically, the chances are high that I will die from the cancer. And we know, more of less, what’s involved in dying from cancer.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. I am afraid of it. I don’t want to die. And I don’t want to spend the next 20 years (or more) preparing for death. I want to live, and I want to live fully.

    I just realized something.

    It’s not death, as an ending, per se, that frightens me. It’s leaving things undone, unfinished, that frightens me.

    I need to start focusing more on doing those things that, if not done, will leave me fealing frustrated and incomplete. Perhaps, if I’ve done the really important things, then, when death comes (hopefully, many years from now), I will be ready.

    Of course, living long enough to see my kids grow up, get married, and have their own kids… now, that would be nice too!

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