Wednesday, June 24, 2015

You Don't Have to Fight Any More

After an epic, multi-year battle with cancer, a friend of mine finally passed away last week.
She put up a good fight, but it was a fight she was never going to win. It was a fight to squeeze every minute, every hour out of a life that would be shorter than the average.
Nobody wanted her to die, of course. But as her body shut down, the simplest activities exhausted her. She couldn't eat. There were drugs--lots of drugs--to try to mitigate the pain. Her life consisted mainly of doctor's visits, each prognosis more alarming than the last.
People said, don't give up! I wanted to say, no, it's okay, you don't have to fight any more. But I didn't, because maybe my friend wanted to go down snarling and cursing.
She was so determined. She had defied expectations many times. She had survived again and again. And even though we all knew it was hopeless, there was still a kind of hope. Self-delusion, maybe.
But what is life without hope?
What is a life of pain and exhaustion?
What is the point at which  the suffering becomes too much? The point at which you decide to cast yourself into the other world or to give up and just fall? When is this cowardice and when is it noble or just plain sensible?
The answer might be in its affect on those we love.
Too many people use suicide as a weapon. It is the ultimate weapon, after all. Once you are dead nothing can hurt you, but the pain you cause to others may reverberate for years. It is a way to tell a loved one, "you are not good enough," and to drag a piece of their heart into the grave.
I do believe that every individual is the best judge of his or her pain. But when you have had enough, how do you express that to the ones who love you without wounding them more?
We have a duty, don't we, to complete our lives, to squeeze every lesson we can from them?
The problem is, we act as though death is avoidable, unnatural, shocking. We act as though cautious living, good medical care and helmets will save us all.
When someone close to us dies, we mourn. But we don't really mourn for the dead. They have crossed through. They are safe from pain and have no need of drugs or food or comfort. We mourn for ourselves, because we are left behind, lonely, afraid. We may have regrets that can never be made right.
It may feel like the world has gone wrong. But it is not the whole world that has tilted off its axis, just our view of the world: our plans and dreams, our hopes.
This is what we really lose.
So we go on with our lives, sadder for awhile, but knowing that we are still complete and that we still have work to do, lessons to learn. We make new plans, new hopes, new dreams, and we live them until the time (maybe near, maybe far) when we join our loved one in the place beyond suffering.