Facing up to the truth about life before death
A few months ago I had a medium- to long-term future, but now I don’t – and coming to terms with that has brought many challenges
There have been many articles in this supplement written by people who have been diagnosed with life-threatening illness.
They have, without exception, been courageous, brave and inspirational.
However, as far as I know, few, if any, of the writers have dwelt on the thorny truth that for some of us, there are no cures and with the diagnosis comes the reality that we are beginning our final journey towards death.
For those of us who have been travelling with the certainty of a future, this is a stark deviation from which there is no change of route, no calm reassuring satnav voice offering us the choice to “re-calibrate”.
Often, as in my case, even if my treatment works, it is likely to prolong my life for only a brief period, so I do not have an extended period of time in which to prepare myself.
So where do I turn for assistance?
My family and friends are incredible, but are coping with their own reactions. Besides, there is the obvious truth that none of us has done this before. I believe it is from life’s experiences that we gain knowledge and wisdom.
I know that the wisdom is out there within the medical, religious, armed forces and psychological professions, but what about those in the humdrum of everyday life?
Death is part of the reality of life. Most of us have encountered it somewhere along our life’s journey but there is a reticence to speak of our experiences.
For every other major life event there is advice, debate and discussion on offer. For entering life, there are libraries of books on the process of childbirth.
Advice on how to prolong life, survive surgery and stay young is prolific. Yet for the event that is a certainty for all of us, the leaving of life, there is a dearth of helpful literature and information.
It seems there is a taboo on open conversation, discussion, humour and practical advice. Fear silences us.
When talking about dying and death, our vocabularies become limited. We have to borrow words. If I had written down the number of times that I have been told I must stay “positive” I could have filled an A4 notepad.
It is, apparently, important to “fight” and “battle”. I have been told that if I have sufficient faith, God will heal me. I choose to remain silent as to what I believe He wants for me. (He and I are having our own discussions.)
Why is our mortality such a shock?
I suppose we are so used to finding solutions to every problem for our busy lives that in the face of something that has no answers, we are overwhelmed and silenced.
Mortality so hard to grasp
But why? We all know that there aren’t cures for every disease. Death happens, yet our own mortality is so very hard to accept. I am finding it almost impossible to grasp. However, if we could share a bit more honestly and were open to learning from each other, I’m sure it would help.
On that basis I offer the following nuggets of wisdom I have gleaned in my short journey so far. Ten tips I am working at to make the last portion of my life bearable.
1 Develop a dark and wicked sense of humour. Fast. You are going to need it to “do battle” with the Irish healthcare system.
2 Extend your powers of imagination. When you are trying to sleep scrunched up on a trolley for a second day, waiting for a bed with your legs bent at strange angles, pretend you are on a long haul flight to a lovely holiday in Africa or South America. The physical discomfort and the surrounding din are the same so it’s not hard to trick the brain. I’m serious. It helps.
3 Count your blessings. For me, they have been multiple. The meals, flowers, cards and messages of love. Often the people one least expects, become champions. Every small gesture, kind word, sunny day, smile, and moment of laughter is a gift. Celebrate them.
4 Immerse yourself in the love that surrounds you. I have been completely overwhelmed by it. I am deeply blessed by the love of my husband and family but the love of friends and acquaintances is amazing.