Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Brave, Courageous and Bold

Besides Beverly Sills, two not-famous people died from cancer this week: My former co-worker's 43-year-old son and Sideways Mencken's 48-year-old sister. I'm going out to get a card for the co-worker. I've been doing a lot of thinking about Sideways' post.

...odds being what they are, and medical science being what it is, and with society weighed down as it is by an idiot's-eye-view of "the sanctity of life," the likelihood is that my death, like my sister's, will be a long, dragged out, confusing, humiliating, impoverishing, exhausting experience that will leave me, along with everyone else, thinking: die, already.

"What are my chances, doctor?"

"Oh, you're fucked. You couldn't be any more fucked. But we're never going to tell you that because first, before we let you die, we're going to poison the shit out of you, slice you up like a fucking Thanksgiving bird, stick tubes wherever we can find or cut an opening, make sure that the lasting image your wife and children have of you is as a helpless guinea pig, and finally, take all your money. Then, and only then, can you die."

"Can't I just get my stuff organized, say 'good-bye' and take a massive hit of morphine on a morning of my choosing?"

"Of course not: that would show contempt for the sanctity of life. Not to mention contempt for my need for a sumer home."

I guess Michelle "fought bravely." That stupid locution. No doubt I'll "fight bravely." I certainly wouldn't want to die with the whispered accusations of cowardice following me to my grave. "He fought, sure, but not bravely." Or, "You know, he didn't so much 'fight' as he laid there in a morphine haze watching Simpsons reruns on TV until he fell asleep and never woke up."

Basically, that's what's happening with Jim right now, except it's not "The Simpsons"--it's Turner Classic Movies. The real fight took place over more than two-and-a-half years and consisted of all of the treatments mentioned above, to wit:

And add to this, all of the ways that you accommodate a spouse who is perpetually sleeping off the effects of chemo and radiation and who won't eat, and all of the ways you encourage the spouse to practice their walking, or go out, or make some kind of tentative plan for the future that they can always cancel later, and oh yeah, making sure you get out once in a while to socialize with the two or three people who haven't fled in terror because they were afraid of their own helplessness.

You would think that after all of that, you'd end up with a husband, not a widow.

In some ways, a long goodbye sucks. In other ways, it lets the doomed...I mean, the terminally ill person and their family tie up all the loose ends. And during the rare moments where Jim hasn't been in denial over the severity of his illness, that's been possible.

You could also say that the other advantage is that this way, you know you've done everything that you could have. But that's pragmatic. There's always something you think you could have done even if you were to spend two-and-a-half years in your cubicle at work with a Bunsen burner and a set of test tubes. We should have quit smoking sooner. He should have had a chest ex-ray five years ago. I should have nagged him to go to the doctor sooner. I should have used common household objects to create a drug that crosses the blood-brain barrier.

But even if Mr. Peabody threw me in a Wayback Machine to stop Jim from putting that first cigarette into his mouth back in college, there are so many factors beyond any one person's control, or beyond the control of human beings in general.

So I've been working within what I know, and getting counseling and reading books to increase this knowledge. I'm determined to come out of this stronger than I was when I went into it. Yeah, it's all about me. Well, to me it is. And I feel guilty about that, too. Why should I go get a haircut when my husband can't even handle a fork anymore? Everything else is so shallow and stupid compared to being in a position where your days are numbered and that number can probably be measured in single digits. But that's life: The shallow and stupid co-existing with the profound.

This has to have all been for something, although I can't figure out exactly what right now. So I'll keep coming up with ideas and getting haircuts until I run out of ideas, and hair. When it's me lying there being fed with a spork, I doubt the world will suddenly declare a moratorium from haircuts.

Maybe what this whole thing makes you do is stop and think and then be determined to live a little better. Or at least that's my idea.

As Michael said: life is for the living. That includes haircuts.

I keep thinking about the ending of "The Sopranos," which makes me more and more convinced that that was the perfect way to end it. The most recent realization I've had is that one of the things it illustrates is how life goes "on, and on, and on, and on" (as in the Journey song Tony played on the juke box) after any one of us ceases to be aware of it. While that often feels disloyal, it is also comforting, in a ruthless sort of way.
Actually, I've heard that your hair and nails keep growing even after you die. But not for too long after.
I tried to think of something profound to say about how I understand what you are going through. I have no idea what you are going through an cannot pretend to. All I can say is that I cried over your words.
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