Facing Death with A Smile
Recently, I had the misfortune of subjecting myself to cruel examination, from a harsh unenlightened perspective, in the office of a sub-par therapist, psychologist, PHD. I was looking for help, feeling a little overwhelmed… nothing major, just the mechanics of life with cancer, being a mother, artist, person… finding my way. It can be a challenge, since each person’s path is a mystery, to be discovered, defined in the process of unfolding.
Her job is to council individuals facing cancer. Mine is to keep my spirits up and stay focused on living and loving life. At least, that is how I see it. I know that I’ve undergone a multitude of surgeries, treatments, procedures. Yet, as a matter of policy, I don’t anticipate the pain, not in the treatments, or the many hospital visits. I simply go where I must, do what is required, guided by my husband’s scientific understanding and the doctors he selects to manage my care. I don’t complain. I don’t explain my condition to others. I don’t make a big deal about my health status. I don’t invite others to savor misery. I don’t worry about it. I don’t give into the thought that this surgery or the next might kill me.
Sure, I have symptoms. My life has changed. I’m a different person than I was six years ago when treatment started and I was not in the advanced treatment that I am in now. Yet, I’m still me… a person with optimism enough for a village, for myself, and the future of my children. I believe I will live a long life. Yet, looking at my medical records, current treatment, and the general prognosis for those in similar situation the Shrink suddenly asked me, toward the end of the “session,” no less; “So… being that your medical records and condition are what they are, indicating that you don’t have long to live, what do you plan your legacy to be?”
I blinked. “Everyday, I take care of my children, share my values with them, feed them my knowings and cherish that they are. That is my legacy.” Besides, I went on, gaining steam, “I am planning on being a grandmother. I have never seriously considered that I would die, soon. I’m always engaged in what I am doing and sure it isn’t always easy but, what life is?”
This was not good enough for her, “I thought that is what you would say.” She said, dismissing my words, clearly dissatisfied with my determination to stay focused on living, loving, and enjoying my life as it is. “But, I mean, don’t you think about death and what you want your life to stand for?” I thought I had made it clear, or that I make it clear with my actions that my life is a statement of appreciation. I’m grateful for every moment, everyday. Sure, there is pain. Suffering? Not so much. The pain comes and goes. Accupuncture helps. My husband’s love goes a long way to making everyday bliss. I’m aware that without him, it really wouldn’t be so easy. I’ve got these great kids, a home, and time. Yes, time, that mysterious good which others never have enough of… I’m rich in it because I’m focused on love. Loving my books. Loving my home, children, marriage, and life. When you are thus focused, days slow down and you make the most of this precious resource, doing more in a day than others dream of.
Moreover, “I’m an artist.” I told her, “I’ve made hundreds of paintings, hundreds more drawings, books full of them.” I went on. ” I write everyday. Even if I don’t publish everyday. I’m active.” What more legacy could one wish for? I capped it with my personal truth. “I rarely entertain fear. I don’t sit done with fear and caress it, milk it. I don’t look for comfort in lingering on what is inevitable. I accept death, but I’m not planning on kicking the bucket just yet. I see myself living well into my eighties.” I reminded her, what I told her before, that when the doctor originally told me that I had cancer, I saw myself, “an old woman, wrinkled and wearing huge sunglass, bangles to my elbows, and a loud knit dress, at an art opening, immersed in the world of creatives, culture.”
In recent years, I’ve come to value my relationships, friendships, and art world connections with more gusto. I’ve experienced that maxim, “live everyday as though it were your last.” I’m doing that in that each day I’m invested in those the individuals which enrich my day-to-day, those friends that care to contribute to my actual well being by sharing of themselves, their discoveries, passions, and secrets. I’m content in the present, even if my life doesn’t impress the inexperienced, young, and insensitive therapist. (I suspect that after a few months of seeing me regularly, she was simply bored, and not finding me to be the typical patient, oozing sadness over what can not be controlled, she wanted to prompt me to emote to the tune she prefers to hear over and over again, one in which she gets the pleasure of comforting a distraught person, not one simply in the middle of living a good life.)
The session was over, time to talk done. I wanted to go on and tell her about my books. I’ve actively collected many a book in the last year, bringing together, and unpacking my library from college years and ensuring that the children don’t have to go far for a good read. Our bookshelves are packed with literature (from Achebe/Allende to Zola) and history. Asian studies. Anthropology. British literature. German language. Spanish. Learn Guitar. Piano. Relationship and self-help books. Etiquette. Crafts and Fine Art manuals. Poetry. Theater. I’ve bought books on all the subjects that interest me and that represent who I am, for them, thereby creating a portrait of ideas, inviting them to converse with me, perhaps, when I am no more. Today, I’m a person that reads and writes and lives. Now. I’ll worry about death, when it happens, until then I’m ultra-busy learning, loving, and getting on with the business of life.