As much as I like the Snoopy cartoon - which is all the more admirable for its simplicity – dying is, nevertheless, more complicated than that.
Some people die quietly in their sleep, others die suddenly in, for example, a traffic accident, while another group of us slowly dies while being treated with drugs meant to extend of our lives even though we know the disease will eventually kill us.
Twenty-seven years ago, my mother chose no chemotherapy. She didn't want to be sick or drugged during her final months of life. I chose differently. So far the chemo side effects are minimal and the professional guesstimates of extended life sufficiently long to make the treatment worthwhile – at least, to me.
You might have guessed that I have put a lot of thought to this interim period. Back in June 2017, when I was first told I had pancreatic cancer, I made a bunch of decisions at least two of which have proved fruitful.
- Spend every day living to the fullest extent I desire
- Talk about my “predicament” as much as I want
For number 1, I have surrendered to life and living as fully as possible because what other choice is there? I don't have the first idea of other possibilities.
One thing that gets in the way is that I feel apologetic when the simple life I lead comes up in conversation, when someone asks about my bucket list (none) or fulfilling lifelong dreams, etc.
I don't know why I'm touchy about my life and I'm working on figuring it out. In addition to having cancer I'm old, nearly 78, and I'm slower than I used to be. There was a time when I tried to hide that.
Nowadays I have no difficulty behaving like an old person even though American culture recognizes (begrudgingly) only old people who act like younger adults.
The amazing plus side of number 2, talking openly and often about my cancer and about dying, is that when I do it, it is easier for the people I'm speaking with to do so too. And writing about my predicament on this blog has freed up readers and friends to leave messages that stick with me every day, long after they are said.
My friends Gail and Jim wished me “a safe and harmless journey.” Isn't that lovely. And not long ago, another friend, Wendl Kornfeld, signed off with “May you live long enough.” Both of these being beautifully inspiring.
But we need to talk more about dying until it becomes a normal part of life. It wasn't always hidden away, you know. Until 100 years ago or thereabouts, most people died at home among family and friends. Even the children were involved.
Personally, I am fascinated with these final weeks and months of my life, eager to let myself follow natural inclinations to wherever they take me.
Palliative care physician and author Kathryn Mannix also believes it is time to break the taboo surrounding death, as she explained in this March 2018 video from the BBC: