I’m laying in a hospital room looking like a poster child for health care and beginning to think this process of dying is nothing more than an exaggerated form of free verse. My mind’s in the middle of short little thoughts strung together to form a moment that has no possibility of being remembered without dramatic embellishment. If nothing else, death is drama at its very best, one that allows each of us the opportunity to star in our own limited one-act play. Fortunately, or unfortunately, some of us close after one night while others are forced to tolerate longer engagements of various lengths. Still, the process is unique in terms of how it relates to what remains of our lives.
During the last few days I tried to remember when I stopped being the person I’ve been my entire life. Terminal illness has a way of robbing you of your identity and how you seem to be defined by others. Rick no longer has a house in the suburbs, he has cancer. Rick doesn’t have children, a wife or a job, he has cancer. Seen Rick lately? No, he has cancer. It seems to me I was terminal before I was terminal.
I wonder how and when that happened? There has to be some rule or understanding among non-terminal people who decide when The Terminals will drop out of society; some sort of definition or timeframe they embrace. We love definitions, don’t we? We actually place labels on death depending on a person’s age. If you die under the age of twenty it’s a tragedy. If you die between twenty and thirty, it’s sad. Between thirty and fifty, a sin. Between fifty and seventy, you’re still relatively young. After seventy we quietly move from definition to expression. If you’re between seventy and eighty we raise our eyebrows and tilt our heads as if it’s no real surprise. Beyond eighty we just shrug our shoulders. After all, how much life can one person expect? You suddenly get the feeling you’ve finished dinner a while ago and are taking up space at the table; as if seats at this buffet are at a premium.
Me? I’m in the raised eyebrow/tilted head category. People who work here don’t know whether to feel sorry for me or pat me on the head and ask me if I’ve had fun in Disney World. I have a trach that prevents me from speaking but everyone walks around this room and acts as if I’ve lost my ability to hear, think, reason and feel. Seems like creative math at its worst; you minus sound equals nothing.
There’s a certain mosaic pattern to this eventuality that we don’t seem to appreciate until we’re facing death. Then time suddenly feels like money on a bad night in Vegas. For me it begins and ends with the eyes. I’ve taken and stored mental snapshots in my mind since I reluctantly checked into this paradise a few weeks ago and have watched the eyes around me gradually become as sad as I feel and as dead as I’ll be in a short time.
The suit and scope guys don’t really see me anymore. I’m not sure they ever did. At a certain age faces become blurred to the med dispensers at the side of the bed reading the current box score of my fading life. To them, I’ve become a billable commodity whose space will soon be filled with another, hopefully younger, individual, willing to play another round of poke and probe. Am I sounding cynical yet? Good. I was afraid I was being a bit too subtle.
Of course, no one really wants to hear or speak about this morbid topic unless they have a stake in the outcome. Who can blame them? Why would anyone want to sit around and dissect pain and its eventual outcome? After all, when you’re a Terminal the outcome is like bad literature; predictable and without life. Revisions are unnecessary. So why stick around for the reviews when you know the critics have already made up their mind?
Sometimes, it’s just time.