Tag Archives: Dying

Living With Dreams

 

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” 
James 4:14

Thirty-nine years ago today my father passed away suddenly, less than a day after we buried my thirty-two year old brother-in-law who died of cancer. When you spend a week and half sitting in a funeral home making final arrangements for two people of your immediate family, life has a way of changing you. Not immediately, and sometimes not even in ways you can understand or explain. But it does change you.

It’s hard to believe so much time has gone by and even more difficult to think about everything they missed and everything we missed sharing with them. We lost a part of our future and past in a matter of days. I don’t know if we ever really recover from loss or just throw a blanket over it to allow us to function each day. We carry on, we laugh, we welcome new family members, we enjoy life because there is no other choice. We live for the living and for ourselves. Still, there’s always a hole, always moment in days where we stop and maybe smile at a memory or what they might have done or said about a family situation. Or the way life has changed so much over the years.

Here’s the strange part of the story…

A couple of weeks before my Dad died, I had a dream. In my dream, I saw him in a coffin at the funeral home, exactly as he appeared after he passed away.
Ten years earlier, my grandfather, (my father’s father), died unexpectedly. A couple of weeks before he died, I had a dream. In that dream, I saw him as he appeared in the coffin. My grandfather lived in Brooklyn so I had never been to that funeral parlor. And yet, when I walked in, everything was as I had seen it. In detail. I remember it very clearly.

A couple of days after my father was buried, I told my mother about both dreams. For obvious reasons, I had never told anyone about them before. She wanted to know why I didn’t tell her. She wondered if there might have been something we could have done if she had known. But as soon as she said the words, she understood.

You can’t alter your life chasing those types of dreams, just like you can’t alter your life chasing what might have been. There’s no time for that, no secret recipe for the secrets of life.

So hold the ones you love close. Those that are here and those who are not. And if the ones who are here don’t understand, hold them closer.

 

 

 

 

Excuse Me, Are You Stiff?

 

We were traveling recently through North Carolina with a side trip on the way home through Appomattox Virginia to visit the National Park and the site of Lee’s surrender to Grant. On the way out, about two miles from the parks entrance, I passed a building that looked like an airline hangar with this sign on the side of the driveway.

img_4606 Now if this were my business and someone suggested this name, I’d probably laugh at the marketing possibilities and then come to my senses. Besides the fact the building looked like a drive through for something I’m not sure of, this is just a bad idea.

Yes, people will take pictures and remember the name but do you want your deceased loved ones taken to a place whose name is a punchline? Suggestion….first names work, as do other more comforting forms of expression.

It actually makes me wonder if the owner’s name is Stiff Bruce and he thought the name might be too insensitive.

You think I’m crazy? Take another look at the photo. The angels seem to be turning away. It seems even heaven has difficulty with the name.

You can start with the punch lines at any time. The possibilities are endless.

Anniversary Re-Blog (Without A Voice)

I often wondered what it must feel like to find yourself in a situation and not have a voice in what happens to you; to have lost all control of your life. So i tried to put myself into that situation, complete with the helplessness and anger that are part of process of dying. Its what we all think about in our darkest moments, but are afraid to speak.

Without A Voice

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.

Without A Voice

Someone, somewhere………

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.

Celebrating Life

Brittany Maynard died quietly on Saturday, surrounded by her husband and parents after battling a brain tumor for almost a year. One day later, Lauren Hill celebrated the “best day of my life” on a basketball court in front of ten thousand people, knowing her own brain tumor was in the next room of a wide open door she couldn’t close.

Brittany and Lauren never met in this life. Never shared their struggles. fears, defeated dreams or the arms of someone who knew what the other might be feeling…. and desperately praying for. And yet, I’m sure they watched as each became the face of their individual causes and, with much difficulty, stood on the mountains and floors of their respective dreams. Along the way, they touched tens of millions of lives, showed us that living your life is winning the battle, inspired others fighting the same odds and generated dialogue about how to live…and how to die.

People who have never been told they only have one more season to live have offered their opinions about how death should be met. I’ve always taken exception to those who presume to know what they would do in situations so far down in their pockets they can’t reach them. While there are moral and ethical questions that help to guide our lives, to those who have never been there, immeasurable pain and suffering was always somewhere else when we stood on a table and proudly spoke about our beliefs to others. As the saying goes, it’s never scary to die one day. It’s scary to die today. What each of us will do that day remains to be seen.

I’d like to think that my beliefs would guide my decision if I were ever in that awful position, but quite honestly, I don’t know how I would feel. So I don’t judge Brittany’s decision to die on her terms or Lauren to live on hers.

I would rather celebrate the lives of two young women who followed their dreams for as long as life would allow. Who told their individual stories with dignity, honesty and a passion to live. Though they never met in this life, they came together on a single weekend, holding hands to bridge the days of life and death.

Some would say that was coincidental. Some would say.