“Don’t you think it’s much harder to have someone die suddenly than to have them die slowly?”
A room full of ten women recently heard that question. The one asking is dying slowly. It’s a process that’s being going on for the past four and half years. The one she was asking lost her husband unexpectedly to death six months ago. Neither of these women qualify as old, not by any stretch of the imagination. They are young and at the peak of life’s gifts and joys and grinds.
What a stunning question to ask someone straight out when they’ve suffered such a horrendous loss.
It caught my breath. But they’ve both earned the right at such honesty about a difficult subject.
But there’s no topic off-limits in that group. Not anymore. Ten years ago, maybe. Now. No.
A short list of some the other losses for that group of friends:
- Two have cared for a dying or dementia ridden parent who then died.
- A mother died from cancer.
- A mother died after a long, long life.
- A best friend dying suddenly in an accident.
- A husband suffered a massive coronary, lived, but has lost earning capacity, mental acuity and vitality.
- A sister with brain cancer.
- Parents died at the hands of a drunk driver when she was eleven.
The Answer to that question is…
The conclusion was that sudden death was harder to deal with. No warning. No chances to say goodbye, to say last important words.
Although, the slow dying thing isn’t exactly fun for anyone involved either.
My friends talked about extra weeks purchased at the cost of hail-Mary chemo treatments. Talk of hospice and bereavement counseling also bantered about the room.
Honestly, I felt myself trying to physically create an emotional wall in that room. I kept turning my head away from this wrenching discussion, visualizing a barrier, willing my hearing to deafen instantly. Even now, writing about it, I’m leaning away from that side of the room, trying to create distance from such personal stabs of knife twisting pain.
I can’t, I won’t, I don’t want to deal with it.
There’s no escaping though.
We’re all dying slowly.
But that’s not the point is it?
The point is living in the meantime.
That isn’t always easy. Filled to the brim with mean poisons, your body overrun with side-effects, doped up on painkillers to survive the treatment that’s supposed to buy you more time, how do you make use of such poor quality time? How do you smile when the pain is excruciating? How does someone do anything useful, check any tiny thing off their bucket list, interact with their loved ones in a meaningful way under such circumstances? Cancer and its treatment is a personal tornado that rips lives to shreds.
Or maybe your challenges are slightly less complicated than that. Maybe you have chronic pain or a life altering illness. Perhaps you’re unemployed. Maybe you’re always worried about finances. Perhaps you work in a horrid place. Maybe your spouse makes life unbearable. Your parent might need additional care. Your child could have learning difficulties. Your car is unreliable. Loneliness haunts you. Your past feels inescapable.
Or maybe, if you’re lucky, it’s just garden-variety stuff. Busy schedules, sore muscles, what to fix for dinner for the zillionth time, a curfew-breaking teen, piles of bills needing attention, the mountain of laundry requiring scaling, a leaking roof, a tooth ache, weeds.
Living in the moment while living in the reality we find ourselves in. Not always easy. Rarely easy, actually.
Have we created a now that includes eternity or is now all there is? What’s your perspective? Immediate, long-term, short-term? Or maybe with blinders on? That’s a tempting option, but not a great one. How do you get through? What’s your coping strategy?
Death is coming for us all, eventually. Sooner or later. That’s the only way out.
What are we doing in the meantime?