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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Dignity and Grace

The old me would be whining and moaning about this, asking myself and The Universe, “Why me?  Why do I have to do this again?”  

I was to spend today visiting with Cuz, my dear friend, in Valdosta.  He called early last night and said he  was going into the hospital.  Tears sprang to my eyes but I forced them back as I heard his painfully weak voice telling me that he was weak and constipated and in terrible pain. 

I knew things were not going well with his chemotherapy for stage four lung cancer because I had an email from him on Wednesday, saying he was in the infusion center for 8 hours that day for his “three hour” chemo treatment.  He is anemic and was held over for a transfusion, and was to return for another on Thursday morning.

When I read the email, I knew I had to go and see him.  I haven’t been back since my visit in late September, and he didn't feel good enough to come for Thanksgiving, even though I offered to drive over and pick him up. 

We talked briefly, agreeing that he would be in touch with me when he felt good enough to talk or email.  He did not want me to come to Valdosta now.  I could hear it in his voice, and I understood.  I will see him when he is home.

At a cerebral level, when Cuz was diagnosed with stage four cancer back in the summer, I knew that his life would be shortened, that without a miracle, he probably wouldn’t live another year.  I have lived through loved ones being diagnosed with cancer and dying.  Mary Ellen, another dear friend, lived only two months after her diagnosis of lung cancer.  My brother John made it for a remarkable six years with renal cell carcinoma, four and a half of those years coming after his first metastatic lesions were found.  I know this road, and at first I resented having to travel it again, so I dove under the cover of denial, telling myself that Cuz would defy all the odds.

Resentment will not make this easier.  It will only make me sick and less capable of being supportive and a positive force in what life Cuz has left.  Statistically, his life expectancy from the time of diagnosis was eight months.  He found the metastatic tumor on his forearm in mid August, four months ago. 

Does that mean he will die while I am in Paris this spring?  The possibility is real, but it never entered my mind while I was making my plans for the trip.  

When Mary Ellen was dying, I could not allow myself the luxury of denial.  By the time she was diagnosed, she had huge tumors in her bones.  I knew she would not live long.  

When John was sick, I actually believed that if I wanted him to live bad enough, he wouldn't die.  I thought I could will him to live.  On the morning of his death, I still had not allowed myself to acknowledge that he was dying.  That strong denial was what kept me from losing my mind at the thought of not having my baby brother in my life.  I could not have borne the burden of mourning for him before he was gone.

Though he did not die of cancer, I did not release my denial about my husband Clint’s terminal illness until five days before he passed away.  Living with his illness and caring for him did not allow any room for the reality of his approaching death.  It would have been too overwhelming, would have paralyzed me.  Again, denial saved me from losing my mind.  As it was, I became so depressed while he was sick that I was hospitalized for major depression eight months before he died.

So, when Cuz got sick, I once more adopted the mantel of denial, believing at my core that he would somehow defy the odds and live a long time.  Last night’s phone call from him stripped it away, and now I am faced with the real truth.  He is going to die and maybe it will happen before he sees another summer.

I haven’t cried yet, not really.  My psychiatrist would advise me to watch a sad movie and let the tears flow, and she would be wise to do so.  I need to cry about this and I need to cry a lot.  But if I do, the reality of this horror will be undeniable.  There.  See?  I’m still clinging to denial, attempting to save myself from the crippling pain of completely acknowledging the inevitable.  If I hang to it, will I be better able to withstand the months to come?  Or, will I be stronger going into this one with my eyes wide open, be a more positive force in Cuz’s life?

I don’t know.  I just don’t know.  I need to give myself permission to “not know” for as long as I need to.

This is so hard.  No matter how many times I have to watch a dear one die, it will never be okay.  It will always be horrid, no matter how I decide to process it.

Cuz is handling this better than I am.  Here is a quote from an email he sent me in August:

This cancer may kill me, but it is NOT going to consume the rest of my life. It will be a fact in my life, but it will not BE my life.  I refuse to give it that power over me and I am not praying to be cured, but rather to have the strength to live my life with dignity and grace. I can't stand to be around complainers and I refuse to be one.”

Dignity and grace, words that describe my friend so well.  I will do all I can to live up to the standard he has set.

1 comment:

Emily Walsh said...

Hi Claudia! I was reading up on few of your posts and had quick question about your blog. I was hoping you could email me back when you get the chance, thanks!

Emily : )