Sunday, April 01, 2007

The ultimate teacher

This blog will be a little scattered- a bit here and there- a tad all over the place. I'm just really letting my thoughts romp about. Think James Joyce and stream of consciousness.
There are two parts of me today. The first is the side that knows that Oscar is finally at peace.

Then there's the other side.
My therapist asked me on Saturday, "How do you feel now that it's over?" My first instinct is less than happy, bordering on what I can only reasonably describe as rage, but I just stuff it and I say the truth: I feel a sense of relief that he is finally out of pain. And now it is a matter of getting past the missing him. A matter of dealing with the fact that a good person that I genuinely cared about is gone. I think of my dad and how that dent will always be there. Getting past the missing them is the worst part. And that is what I can only assume takes a lifetime.

I guess I don't need to say that I wasn't as close to Oscar as many people in my group were. I keep feeling the need to justify why it hurt so bad to see him go. It's ridiculous, really- I think all of us from the group are asking ourselves why it hurt so bad. Of course, it is sad that such a wonderful person is gone, but we all seemed so emotionally tied to his death, when, really, we've all been surrounded by death before. But this one hit home. We're all exploring these emotions in us, thinking of Oscar, wondering what has been stirred in us.

It brings me to a quote I read this week: "Conflict comes when you seek consolation, forgetfullness, explanations, and illusions."

The other day we were talking about how the first stages of diagnosis always coincide with, "Why me?" And then one day, it just clicks, and the question instead becomes, "Why not me?" There is no consolation in figuring out why. We've done nothing to deserve it any more than any other person on the planet. And so the consolation comes from within, in the understanding that it happens. It happens to good people and to bad people, young and old, strong and weak. It just happens.

And such as it is with death, the ultimate teacher. It happens. The illusion that we here in the West like to live under is that death is some distant and foreign thing that's not going to happen to us. We're too young, too healthy, too (insert other adjective here). But death is a reality, and when we are slapped with it, how can I say this except: it rocks our world. That's where the "new normal" comes in. The new normal is life in the face of death. The elephant in the room that most cancer survivors are willing to acknowledge and everone else chooses to ignore is the reality of death. Once someone comes to grips with their own mortality, a lot of the dillusions about life and about ourselves are lost. There is pain with the prospect of our lack of existance, but at the same time the huge question begins to arise: Why do we pretend death's not going to happen to us?

Which brings me back to my therapist Saturday, who asked: why deal with death now? Why not wait until it is time to deal with it?

When, exactly, I asked him, is it time to deal with it?

When we're dying, he said.

Here's what I don't get: can we not learn to live life in the face of death? Does the prospect of it not give us greater insight into what we really want? And need? I have come to believe, as I have seen the face of death, that an acceptance of death leads to a more vivid life. Whether I can live that more vivid life, I am not sure yet. I am not so sure that I am capable of being that big of a person. But I know, none the less, that it is true.

There has been an outpouring among my Gilda's group since Oscar's passing, a string of emails to each other thanking the others for what they've provided and what is appreciated in each of them. It sort of blows my mind that a group of people can chose to go through something like this with each other, something that I've never really seen or experienced in my short life. And yet the group has pulled through it- has chosen to bond and meld together and be there for another human when all of our first instincts are to protect our own well-being. I, personally, had to fight with myself constantly- forcing myself to do what I really wanted to do when all the instincts were screaming to run in the opposite direction. This has much more to do with me and my history than it does to Oscar or my group- it's just how I've gotten by in rougher times. And I fight it still, even now. I can feel the tension inside me pleading not to get too close to people, not to allow myself to trust and not to get attached and not to put faith in them, that when it all goes down I won't be able to take the pain. But becoming bigger and better person sometimes means ignoring those instincts and learning to put yourself out there and love in spite of fear. It means that risks like this could pay off or not, but either way, a person comes out on the other side richer from the experience and proud of the involvement and wiser from the struggle. Isn't that what death teaches us, anyway?

This group has brought about a sort of renewal in me. I see, in the midst of this pain, such an amazing spirit of friendship that has astounded and overwhelmed me. And I see the individuals, too- people that I wouldn't even know or be friends with typically- I am in awe of their spirit, their strength, their faith, their tenacity, their character. In the last week, even saying the word "friendship" has literally brought tears to my eyes. It makes me cry the way people cry at weddings, who are bewildered by the beauty and stunned by the flow of emotions. And I can only assume it is because I simply cannot believe how I've been so blessed by this. So blessed to fall into this circle. I am at a loss to even describe it, but you just have to trust me how it feels to be so overcome by a sense that I am surrounded by a group of people that get me, people genuinely and deeply feel the same pain I am experiencing, people that would look me in the eye hours before death, people that are simply THERE- there when I just need to hear their voices or their stories, there when I am searching for a familiar face like a child lost among strangers, there to listen and to prod and to urge and to care.

I wanted to end this blog with some sort of conclusion about all this. But tonight I don't have it.
Maybe someday soon. Maybe it will become clear.

For now, though, I know one good thing. And in light of Oscar's death, I think that's a pretty big good thing to see.



Snobby Bobby said...

My monkey,
As always you put things into words that just make sense.

As a person (me) observing the people living with cancer and seeing them at Oscar's house huddled around each other, consoling, laughing, crying I realized I'm not a part of that group. I can't offer what the group can. And that's a good thing. What seems to happen in people with cancer is that they come out on the other end stronger than ever, even though they were strong to begin with.

I don't really know what I'm saying except I love you and I'm glad you have "The group" and they have you. I can't imagine what it's like to be in such a position, but you make it work every day and I love you for it.


Peter said...

Get a better therapist. You are far ahead of this one!

Carver said...

Dear Lori,
I wanted to respond to your blog because your insights are so profound and because I'm sorry for your loss. I couldn't think of anything close to being as insightful as what you have come up with on your own to say. I saw Peter's comment and I have to say when it comes to understanding what death means, you are indeed far beyond your therapist. Maybe your therapist is a great resource to you in other ways but hello, death is so much a part of life and it's not like we wake up one day and know, this is the time to start dealing with it. Death, loss, and all of it begins with birth and there is no way it doesn't become amplified when we have cancer and meet other people fighting that disease. Although I don't go to a formal support group in my area, I have met enough cancer survivors both in person and yes through the internet that I have an inkling of what you are going through and my heart is with you. I am sorry for your loss. I'm glad Oscar is no longer in pain but I'm also sorry he didn't have more time, particularly more pain free time. Take care of yourself. As ever, Carver

faye said...


You are like a self-cleaning oven with the way that you close the door for awhile and come out all shiny...I love to hear you working through these things, as you mentally "clean up" and make sense of some of the things in life that people usually try to forget. I love that you, in your words, remind me that there is a side of life that is still there, whether most of the world chooses to acknowledge it or not. No matter WHAT cycle of the "oven cleaning" process you're in, you have brought nothing but JOY to my life!! I love you, Whory Lee!

I'm hungry.

faye said...
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I'm Too Young For This!