Living With Dying

At Forty Five On My MindI am too familiar with having a close one living with a terminal illness. My mother passed away a few years ago from cancer. Now my cousin, who is akin to my brother, is living with pancreatic cancer. As I visited him this summer, I was struck by the thought that the adjective dying is a misnomer.

Perhaps our minds use the word to obscure the preparation needed for losing that person.  I feel I used that throughout my mother’s illness.  Dying was something I projected onto the future. I didn’t have to acknowledge that I had no control over when that would be. I never did get to see my mother before she died. The last words I spoke to my mom were, “I will see you next week.”  I felt sad for a long time about not getting there.

Seeing my cousin brought me peace because I realize that dying isn’t an identifiable state. Yes, there is death, but up to that moment there is living.  Amid the pain, suffering and the sadness of the illness, there is insatiable living. I see that my mom worked living so well.

My daughter and I were part of a great big Italian family supper while visiting my cousin. It was great to catch up. He is busy. He had been to Mexico to see his youngest daughter marry on the beach a month earlier. The medications and wheelchair and special arrangements were just the accoutrements of a wonderful story. He is part of his other daughter and grandchildren’s daily life, and there were laughter and jokes about some of the side effects of his illness. His grandchildren were happily running back and forth, talking with Grampa.

He kept nibbling on homemade Italian sausage and tasting all the foods knowing it wasn’t exactly what the doctor might recommend. The bond with his son, who is his dad’s roommate and sidekick was evident in quiet words. There were chats about his treatments and how he might proceed. He was ensconced in a bedroom at his parents while he was recovering from the most recent chemo. They help get him back and forth to doctor’s appointments and provide support as he recovers from each round.

We looked at pictures of the wedding and then recent family photos.  There was one with parents, kids, grandkids and extended family in the field behind their house.  The picture belied the fact it was not the best day for pictures from the feeling well perspective. They look like a family in a glossy advertisement.  Perfect.  And that struck me too.  That the act of living is perfect.  Not perfect situations, surroundings, settings or circumstances. The astounding essence of life is packed into each single perfect second.  There is only living and then death. So we should live life with a flourish. It is a gift for those left behind.

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