I'm thinking about death. You know, that thing that happens to all of us somewhere along the way of this life. When we cease to be, for whatever reason.
I'm thinking about death because it's in my face and head again, tearing down flimsy walls, ripping to shreds all manner of defences I have built up against thinking about it. Insidious bastard.
Even the word makes me cringe and want to run away. Death.
There it is.
I like to think of that special Monty Python scene and the salmon mousse. Or Terry Pratchetts' version - that one just rocks. But in the end, it's all the same, innit? There's no macabre tattered robe enclosing the ultimate blackness and holding a scythe with bony hands, is there?
There's just an ending.
Well, that's the way we see it from our viewpoint anchored in this life. And what is this life? A series of moments from birth (which everyone seems to celebrate) to death (which engenders grief and fear in the vast majority of people).
Life. Living. Breathing. One breath to the next and so on until the breath stops.
I've got another word in my head, too. Next to death, I think it shares equal fearful billing in most people's minds and hearts.
Cancer and Death. Eek.
But Cancer is also a sign of the zodiac, isn't it? And yet people don't run screaming from that word. (Well, OK, maybe some people :D ) Mayhaps it's because the star sign version isn't a possible death sentence... :D
Cancer. One out of two men and one out of three women will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85 (http://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/what-is-cancer/facts-and-figures.html). It is one of the leading causes of death in Australia accounting for 30% of all deaths recorded. However, more people are surviving cancer now than ever before.
I've had friends die of lung cancer, breast cancer and liver cancer. I've had friends suicide. I've had friends killed in motor vehicle accidents and when crossing the road. I've had friends die of other horrible diseases like Motor Neurone Disease. I've had family and friends die of heart attacks. I've only had one person I know die from old age...
I guess that's the bit where it starts getting really scary and no-one wants to think about it. We're fed this fantasy of dying of old age, peacefully, surrounded by our loved ones after a fantastic life lived and ready to let go... But like any fantasy, once it's challenged by experience, it becomes like the elephant in the living room and nobody wants to be the first to acknowledge it.
It's death. It happens. In fact, next to taxes, it's the MOST CERTAIN thing about living! We WILL die! One day, whenever, however, we will kick the bucket. Kark it. Push off. Shuffle off this mortal coil. Pass over. Pass away. Die...
We will die.
I almost died when I was very young. Between one breath and the next, I almost left this life. Thinking about that now makes me realise how simple living is - it's breathing from one moment to the next.
I'm grateful to have been able to live long enough to finally realise that every moment is an opportunity to live. I may live it badly, angrily, painfully, sadly, happily, humorously, lovingly, whatever - but I will live each breath. It's my life.
When the word cancer is mentioned, we forget to breathe. We forget everything about living and concentrate on dying. Cancer kills. But so do cars and hearts. Cancer is like the monster in the living room - everyone's too afraid to notice it in case it notices them! Cancer is like an insidious tentacle that reaches right into the lizard brain and pokes it with a red hot iron. Cancer is another word that people fear.
Cancer and Death.
I'm trying to understand my visceral reaction to the word in the wake of my best friend being diagnosed with Non Hodgkin Lymphoma. The fear of him dying is like this huge lump in my throat that, swallow all I like, simply won't go away. I'm afraid. I'm so afraid. And yet I'm powerless to do anything and fear sure as shit doesn't help. And this isn't about me and yet it is. Cancer affects us all. Everyone who is connected to the person with cancer is affected by the disease.
We are reminded brutally that we are mortal. That death can come at any time. That cancer is real.
I don't know how to deal with it all. I cry a lot. I catastrophise. I push myself physically to the end of my limits and beyond. I try so hard not to think about it and yet, in the end, it's all I do think about. Because I'm afraid. I'm afraid for him. I'm afraid of being left alone again. I'm stricken with grief before the fight has even begun. Because I know what it's like when the people you love die suddenly or brutally and leave you bereft and alone. I'm scared.
So is he.
I try to put myself in his shoes but I can't. All I can do is give my love and support and just be there if needed. Help if wanted. Listen if spoken to.
And remember that I'm still breathing.