Dear Barbara: I just listened to your interview on the Art of Manliness. As I go through life I find it useful to ask others what they have learned in any particular activity or endeavor. With the many contacts you have had with those finishing their time here, I wonder what lessons they may have shared with you? What would they have done differently, what would they tell us?
Actually I am writing a book about those various lessons I have learned from the people I have worked with over the years. So those lessons are in my mind right now.
Here are some thoughts: Most people, I am sorry to say, are so caught up in the process of getting treatment (and generally get very sick in that process) that they don’t feel well enough to have deep thoughts. They certainly don’t want to “jinx” their treatment by thinking about dying and eventual death. I’ve learned we spend so much time trying to stay alive that we stop enjoying the life we have. I see that as a great sadness that a person may not even know they are experiencing.
Families have their fears and concerns. They are more realistic on some level but generally play the game of “this is going to work” and miss their opportunity to do and say those things that are important.
If you asked a person on the day they were dying what they would have done differently I think they would tell you, if they could (and they can’t, it’s not like in the movies), that there should have been less treatment for this life threatening illness. They would say they would have done something they always wanted to do and didn’t instead. I don’t think they would have added another week or even a month to the life they were living with all its debilitation and side effects. Dying seems to come as a surprise. “I did all the treatment, suffered the side effects, gave up my activities, did everything the doctors said and I’m dying? How can that be? I wish I had eaten the dessert that no one said I should have.”
The dying process is such that it is in the months before death that a person is alert and thinking about the might have beens. As death draws closer into the weeks before death the withdrawal process has become almost complete. All thoughts are held within. I believe there is a lot of processing of one’s life occurring, but on the inside. “What have I done? Who have I touched?” Thoughts and considerations. Each person will have thoughts that apply to their individual life but the key word here is individual. We will look back on our own life's direction, accomplishments, and regrets. It seems to be more of an internal processing, an assessment. These are seldom shared.
As I reread this maybe no one is thinking any of these thoughts as they approach death. Maybe the above is what I have perceived and what I would think if it was happening to me. Maybe the most we can know and learn from another’s life choices is not what they say or don’t say but from what registers within us. Something to think about.
Something more about Death Draws Closer...
I wrote A Time To Live when my mother and step father were diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer within months of each other. A Time To Live is for the person who is faced with a chronic or life threatening diagnosis. It offers suggestions on food, sleep, how to deal with affects of medications... and ideas of how to use this "gift of time" that they have in front of them.