Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘terminal disease’

Don’t Die!

From Angie’s Diary. Excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter by Gabriel Constans.

Don’t Die!

I fell in love with Robin the first day we met. She was playing her role, as a recently admitted hospice patient, with great style and flair, while I lumbered through my part as the experienced “seasoned” social worker.

She wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award and didn’t give a damn about her looks. Her body looked like a skeleton with a layer of skin painted on with a thick brush. A blue and green scarf covered her almond-shaped, balding head. Her eyes sparkled like diamonds and her smile hung in the air like the Cheshire cat.

She had a warmth and graciousness that the worst ravages of metastatic breast cancer could not hide. Entering her small, low-income apartment by the sea, felt like entering a sanctuary or coming home for the holidays.

Her one-woman play about a terminal disease had about a two year run.

She talked openly about dying, but more about living. She wasn’t afraid of death, but she loved life. She loved her mother, her boyfriend, her family and friends. She loved music, art, beauty and nature. She was thirty-eight years old and she wanted to live until she was an old woman with grandchildren. She kept waiting for a new treatment, another remission, some kind of hope or miracle. It almost came twice.

An experimental trial with a new drug regime was supposed to be available through her HMO but kept getting put off, then delayed, eventually fizzling away into the land of false promises. Then came the dream of a cure with Angiostatin and similar therapies, which exploded across the media and public airwaves as “extremely hopeful cures for cancer tumors.” Again she was told of some local trials and assured that she was eligible to participate, but this too seemed to fade into oblivion as time slipped by, leaving her to use whatever means she had at her disposal – blood transfusions, medications, hospitalization, intravenous therapy, diet, herbs, detoxification, prayer, meditation, visualization – she tried it all, but the cancer kept chipping away.

STORIES CONCLUSION AT ANGIE’S DIARY

Just Around The Corner

Excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter
by Gabriel Constans.

Just Around The Corner: Hope and Healing

I fell in love with Robin the first day we met. She was playing her role, as a recently admitted hospice patient, with great style and flair, while I lumbered through my part as the experienced “seasoned” social worker.

She wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award and didn’t give a damn about her looks. Her body looked like a skeleton with a layer of skin painted on with a thick brush. A blue and green scarf covered her almond-shaped, balding head. Her eyes sparkled like diamonds and her smile hung in the air like the Cheshire cat.

She had a warmth and graciousness that the worst ravages of metastatic breast cancer could not hide. Entering her small, low-income apartment by the sea, felt like entering a sanctuary or coming home for the holidays.

Her one-woman play about a terminal disease had about a two year run.

She talked openly about dying, but more about living. She wasn’t afraid of death, but she loved life. She loved her mother, her boyfriend, her family and friends. She loved music, art, beauty and nature. She was thirty-eight years old and she wanted to live until she was an old woman with grandchildren. She kept waiting for a new treatment, another remission, some kind of hope or miracle. It almost came twice.

An experimental trial with a new drug regime was supposed to be available through her HMO but kept getting put off, then delayed, eventually fizzling away into the land of false promises. Then came the dream of a cure with Angiostatin and similar therapies, which exploded across the media and public airwaves as “extremely hopeful cures for cancer tumors.” Again she was told of some local trials and assured that she was eligible to participate, but this too seemed to fade into oblivion as time slipped by, leaving her to use whatever means she had at her disposal – blood transfusions, medications, hospitalization, intravenous therapy, diet, herbs, detoxification, prayer, meditation, visualization – she tried it all, but the cancer kept chipping away.

She went to the hospital for one final assault, then returned home. It was a glorious Indian Summer when I saw her for the last time. I knocked on her weathered door, heard her call out “Come in.” and entered her tiny sunlit living room, which was also her bedroom, library and dining area.

Moving towards the head of her hospital bed, I saw that she’d been through the ringer and was losing ground fast. Her face was black, blue and yellow, as if she’d just been in a bar room brawl. Her skin was almost translucent, stretched over her frame like a sheet of white plastic. Her arms were as thin as straws and she struggled to breathe deeply. In spite of her frailty and obvious diminishing returns, her eyes still danced and she spoke vibrantly about life and healing.

“I hope my life made a difference,” she said softly.

“You know it has,” I reassured. “You’ve given such love.”

“Yes, I guess so,” she said and touched my cheek gently with her fingers. “That’s been the best part.”

“What’s next?” I asked tentatively, wondering what she planned to do with her remaining days.

She turned away, looked out her large window and watched a mother and daughter lean against the cliff side railing, their hair blowing in the wind, the child laughing, screaming with delight. Without changing position, she replied, “I don’t know. What do you think?”

Part of me wanted to run. My many years of listening and learning how to be present seemed to slip out the door. “I don’t know,” I said lamely. “Part of me doesn’t want to believe this day has come.” I followed her gaze, not really focusing on anything. My hopeless grasping continued. “I don’t want you to die.”

“Nice thought,” she smiled, “but just a wee bit unrealistic.” She rolled her eyes and grinned with amusement.

“Yeah,” I blushed. “It’s just . . . I don’t know . . .” I struggled to find the right words then looked her way. “How do you let go of everything you’ve known with such dignity and grace?”

“I don’t have any choice,” she said without hesitation.

“I know we don’t always have a choice over what happens to us,” I blundered along, “but we have a choice in how we respond to what happens, don’t we? If I was in your position, I’d be screaming and yelling to my last breath.”

Without blinking, she reiterated, “Like I said, I don’t have a choice. This is who I am.”

Robin died two days later. She died like she lived, tenderly and peacefully. I, on the other hand, keep wailing away at the ravages of cancer, thinking I have more choices in life than are probable and hoping a cure for cancer is “just around the corner.”

MORE GOOD GRIEF: LOVE, LOSS AND LAUGHTER.

Laughing At Death

A famous comedian once said that, “Life is a sexually transmitted terminal disease.” And as far as I know, it still happens to ten out of ten of us. So, is it OK to laugh about this solemn reality? Is it OK to poke a little fun at the Grim Reaper and not offend or upset anybody? I think so. In fact, I believe it is our ability to step back and take a lighter look at death, dying and grief that can, on occasion, help us get through some of the most painful moments in our lives.

I recall an incident many years ago when a family and I were all keeping a bedside vigil with a woman in her seventies, who we’ll call Martha. Martha was going in and out of consciousness and talking out loud to and about people we couldn’t see. One evening she kept looking up by the ceiling in one corner of the room and saying, “The light. The light.”

Her daughter replied, “Yes, Mama. Go towards the light.”

Martha became more agitated and repeated, “The light. The light.”

We all smiled, believing she was speaking about the light at the end of the tunnel that some people describe in near-death experiences. I said, “Yes, Martha. It’s OK. Go towards the light.”

Finally, out of total exasperation, Martha forced herself to sit up. She opened her eyes, pointed at the corner of the room and said, “The light bulb. It needs a new light bulb.” Then she lay back down and continued her dialogue with family members who had already died.

Embarrassingly, we all realized that she had been talking about the lamp in the corner all along. I went to check it and discovered that it did indeed need a new light bulb.

A woman whose husband of thirty years had died just six months previous to our meeting had been talking for quite some time about the deep pain and sadness that had enveloped her since his death, when she suddenly burst out laughing. She laughed uncontrollably for a few minutes and after blowing her noise and wiping her face said, “He could be the biggest pain in the butt when it came to doing the dishes. If he ever did them at all, I had to do them again. His idea of clean wouldn’t have passed mustard at the city dump,” she grinned. “He’d die laughing if he saw the sink now. I haven’t done the plates or silverware in a week. The food’s so caked on it will probably take a chisel to get it off.” She paused, then said, “I never thought I’d miss his dirty dishes.”

Then there was Cliff, a retired schoolteacher. Cliff told me this story about his deceased friend Barney with a very somber, straight face.

“You know,” he said. “Barney and I were best friends for over thirty years. I remember a couple of times before he died when we talked about reincarnation and all that stuff. Neither of us have ever been very religious and didn’t think much about it, but
we agreed that if it was real, that whoever died first would come back and let the other know what it was like.”

Cliff paused, to make sure he had my attention.

“Well,” he continued. “After Barney passed on I went to the same little bench on West Cliff Drive where he and I used to sit and shoot the breeze for hours. You know, that one by the lighthouse?” I nodded. “I went there every day and waited, just in case, by some fluke, this reincarnation thing was legit. Well, wouldn’t you know it, last Saturday I was sitting on our bench when I hear someone whisper, ‘Cliff. Cliff.’”

I sat back a little and raised my eyebrows at Cliff, with some suspicion, but he continued with so much sincerity that I couldn’t dismiss it altogether.

“I’m not making this up,” he said adamantly. “So, I look around and don’t see anybody. Then I here it again.”

‘Cliff. It’s me, Barney.’

“Barney?” I say. “Is that really you?”

‘Yep.’

“Well I’ll be,” I exclaimed. “Where are you? I can’t see you.”

‘Naw,’ Barney replied. ‘They let me come like this for a little bit to let you know what’s up with this reincarnation thing.’

“What do you mean?” I said.

‘Well, it’s the funniest thing,’ Barney explained. ‘All I do nowadays is sleep, make love and eat.’

“What?” I said.

‘Yeah. That’s all we do,’ Barney reiterated. ‘Sleep, eat, make love, go back to sleep, then wake up and do it all over again.’

“Well, I finally had enough of this nonsense,” Cliff explained, “so I asked him straight out, “So, old friend. Who are you now and where are you?”

“And you know what he says?” I shook my head no. “He says, ‘I’m a rabbit on a breeding ranch in Idaho.’”

I’d been had by one of the best. Cliff and I both chuckled over his story. He said it felt good to be able to laugh. “Barney and I used to say, if you can’t laugh at yourself now and then, then you’re taking life much to seriously.”

Cliff was on to something. It shows no disrespect towards those who have died to have a good laugh, even if it relates to them. In fact, most deceased friends and family would want nothing more than our happiness if they were still here to tell us so. As the centurion George Burns used to say, “If I look in the morning paper at the obits and see that my name isn’t there, I know it’s a good day.”

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