Most of us never give it a second thought. Or, if we do, it is when we have just lost someone we know or love. We are not often confronted with it ourselves. Coming face to face with the possibility of death knocking at our door.
There’s a gift in a sudden departure from this planet. We have no time to think about what and who we are leaving behind or the things that will be left unsaid and undone. My father was granted this “gift,” if you will. At the age of 58 he had a massive heart attack. Maybe in his very last moments he had some fleeting thoughts of my mom and maybe of me and my brothers and sisters, and maybe even his grandkids. But my guess is he was scared because his body was suddenly not cooperating. He was struggling to breathe. He was feeling pain. And then he was gone.
That first year without him was so hard for all of us. One day he was here, picking up my daughter from school and dropping her off to me, the two of us sharing a laugh over something. And then he was just not here anymore. My mom’s high school sweetheart. She had already been through so much in her life, enduring her only sibling being drafted to the Vietnam War and dealing with the unknown when he was wounded in battle a few times, and losing both of her parents in her early adult years. Plus other bumps in the road along the way. She is my hero and always has been. I think I’ve told her, but I’ll do so again just in case I haven’t. For all that she has been through, she thrives. She embraces life, her family, her friends. She took on a couple of adventures I’m not sure I’d have the mettle to do. She has always been and continues to be an inspiration to me.
Then there is the gift in being confronted with the possibility of our own death. Of course, we are all going to die. We just don’t know when. We can hopefully do what we don’t want left undone, and we can say what we don’t want to leave unsaid. We can reach out to those we love, giving more time, more hugs, more conversations.
Way too soon, though, came the knock at my door. At the beginning of this year, at the age of 58, I was told I had lymphoma. It took several weeks before treatment started because they needed to know exactly what type of the 72 versions of lymphoma I had. After a needle biopsy and then a surgical biopsy, removing a couple of lymph nodes, it was determined that I had Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma. Stage 4 since it was in some lymph nodes, some bone, and my spleen was just riddled with it. Luckily, very treatable.
The good news … After the standard six rounds of chemotherapy, all the blood markers came back normal and the scans were clear. No cancer is present. But, I was advised, don’t get the port removed for two years because IF it comes back, it usually comes back within those first 2-3 years.
I’d like to say I’m past this, that the rest of my life is in front of me – hopefully 30 or more years, at least. But the specter of cancer returning looms in the wings. The presence of the port in my upper chest, the quarterly follow-up appointments, my slow-growing hair. I have sad moments with long crying jags. These things don’t fit my current RV-traveling lifestyle. After months of making accommodations for this unwanted disease, I am still making accommodations. I think of people whose lives have been cut short, the pain their family and friends endured, imagining how their lives would have played out if they were still living. I think of those who are struggling with their own health and healing, hoping they feel better soon and can get back to the business of living their lives. I think of myself. There are still things I want to do, places I want to go, experiences I want to have. There are words I want to say to people I love, time I want to spend with them, time I want to spend with myself.
I’m not afraid of the afterlife. I’m at peace with what may come once I depart this planet. I’m just not ready. There were times a few years ago, when I was quietly struggling with some depression, when my thoughts were dark and not being here seemed like it would be a relief. I wonder if the seeds for lymphoma were planted during those dark periods.
I have been so lucky to have lived this life. We all know nothing is perfect. I certainly am not. I have my regrets, things I wish I could redo, undo, or do better. I have truly happy memories … dressing up for Halloween with my best friend in high school, experiencing new freedoms and choices in college, breathless moments with my new love when the door opened after not seeing each other for a day or two, the jitters at our wedding dress rehearsal and his reassurance, the births of my two beautiful daughters and seeing them grow into such incredible women, the vacations we’ve taken, the places we’ve been.
I’ve had my share of unhappy memories as well … bad decisions, missed opportunities, depression, deaths of loved ones and friends, regretful words, pointless arguments, work burnout. Those times when I failed as a parent, as a spouse, as a sister, daughter, friend.
Good and bad. We all have both. And, when we sit with ourselves and reflect, we might realize we would go through all of it (or most of it) again. Every experience adds dimension and color to this life and brings us to this exact moment. Any alteration of the past, and the present would be different.
I choose to live. Whether it be 30 days or 30 years, I am here. I’ll take the good and the bad. And I am glad of it.