A friend emailed about his grandson. “What's it like,” the nine-year-old asked, “to be dying?”
(Dear god, is this what happens when kids are done with dinosaurs? I would have guessed that at least a couple more years would go by before this kind of serious question comes up.)
The short answer is that it's not much different from living. I eat and sleep and read and watch TV or movies, see friends, write this blog as I have done for years along with cleaning house, grocery shopping, cooking, the laundry, etc. You know, the everyday necessities and pleasures of life.
The longer answer is that each one of those ordinary tasks takes longer now than before the cancer diagnosis and the surgery that took several months of recovery.
Now, since the additional diagnosis of COPD, they all take even longer and require more rest periods while I'm doing each one.
Getting that stuff done has become the framework of my life – the measure of my days – so that I can be free to spend time on whatever catches my fancy and, regularly, what it means to stop living. To die.
That weighs on my shoulders, it's there all the time although not always at the forefront.
Simple pleasures are greater now. For several weeks, I've been carrying on about this year's fall colors to anyone who will listen. I don't recall them lasting so long or so stunningly in the past.
On Monday, driving a road through a woods to a doctor appointment, the brilliant yellows of last week had become a deep, burnt orange. I've never seen that. Or, rather, not so much of it. It makes me happy.
Sometimes I read what others have written about being terminally ill. They are all more erudite and thoughtful than I although they usually are nearer to death than I am yet (well, one doesn't really know that). Maybe I will magically become more wise as my time gets shorter. Hmmmph.
Other times I hope that when it is my turn, I will have let go enough of earthly life so to be eager for (or at least, accepting of) what comes – or doesn't come – next.
I watched this happen to my mother and to my great aunt. They gradually lost interest in the world around them. I believe I've noticed hints of this phenomenon in me recently. Just a few days ago, I deleted saved videos of two television shows I have watched regularly for many years. That evening, they just seemed dumb. They offered nothing that engaged my mind.
Although my “trip” last December with magic mushrooms (psilocybin) went a long way toward easing my bone-chilling fear of death, it is not a total relief.
Facing oblivion, the wiping away of one's unique self doesn't stop being unimaginable, and when those thoughts come to mind (they have a habit of creeping up from behind me when I'm not expecting them), I purposely dwell on them. I breathe deeply and try to make myself believe it will be all right.
You could say at this point that death and I are dating. I think we've made it to the holding hands stage. We're open to each other. We want to know more although if I'm going to anthropomorphize death, it's probably a good idea to assume that he/she already knows me well enough.
So living while dying is not all that different from living without a deadline (so to speak) which is how I think I like it. I can't be sure because I've never done this before and – damn, there are no rehearsals.
My god, this blog post is so much less than I wanted it to be. Maybe I'll give it another try down the road.