Eye-catching title – or off-putting? To be honest it’s the core of what this blog is all about… I’ve just been skating round the edges of my theme up until now, playing with words and ideas, trying a few blind alleys that provide some momentary relief from the hard single track road we’re on. But since Sam was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at the age of 22 this is what has been our central inescapable truth – and over the past week we’ve had to face it all over again.
The thing that’s quite funny is, that actually every single one of us is in the same position! Of course we don’t think about it all the time – our mortality – but no-one gets off the planet alive and one day soon you too will wake up on your last morning – or perhaps, more to the point, you won’t… “You never know when the nibbles will strike” – to quote an old advertising slogan completely out of context – because as someone much cleverer than me has quipped, ‘life is a sexually-transmitted fatal disease.’
This is all morbid talk and perhaps frightening – maybe even irrelevant – for most people in our western culture these days… Nevertheless this family has had to confront the subject since our son was given ‘a number of years, 3 or 4 perhaps’ to live at the start of 2010. It is from this death sentence that I am longing to escape, back into the carefree world I knew before, the days of sunshine, optimism and laughter… but I never can. Not that that was a very rounded view of life, nor very accurate, but my emotions have been through a mangle and will never regain their shape, no matter how long I keep taking the Prosac. In fact, without hope, depression seems a perfectly rational response to the mess in which we live: I have had to come to terms with personal suffering as part of the picture – not just over there in Africa.
Why does it take something like this to make us re-evaluate? We’d even have to say the past 2 years have been the richest of experiences in so many ways: I wouldn’t be blogging now if I hadn’t found the outlet of writing – birthing poems and posts full of anguish, hope and prayers, telling our story in an attempt to give it meaning and significance as I have struggled to redefine my faith in a good God. Wouldn’t it be easier to just deny such a Deity than try to make it all add up? Not really… for me that would only make it worse. I find myself glad to have been forced to delve beneath the surface of trite answers to discover a deeper mystery in this harsh reality we all share on planet Earth.
In the midst of all this, writing has been a brilliant ‘coping mechanism’ for me – an escape route of sorts – in the same way that others might choose to close down into silence. In and through such ways and means I have found my voice and grown – and I’ve watched Sam do the same as he has fought back against his prognosis in every way he could find, determined not to be overwhelmed and robbed before his life has had a chance to start. So facing death has actually enriched our lives, then? That’s a mysterious and almost unanswerable question… it just IS
In acceptance I have found some peace and equipoise – these things happen, why not me, why not us? But then events conspire, our moods change, he has a bad day – the pain returns to muddy the pool. So it was with a scan result this week that showed that essentially nothing inside his head has changed. You’d think this would be good news – and it is. But being reminded of the reality we’re in has only made us sad again, afraid of what is eventually going to come. It must be human nature to turn away, to make the best of things, pretend that all is well because it is right now… And right now, it actually is. Yes, our exit is blocked and there are dark clouds forming on a distant horizon, but… Sam is doing well right now. He has no symptoms and is living independently. In fact we’d hoped against hope that some of the things he is trying to reduce his tumour might have had an effect… but no – and there’s the painful rub.
Back to reality: (barring a miracle) certain death. No idea when – at this rate could be a long way off. Perhaps we, his parents, will make our exit first – get hit by a bus, have a heart attack or something? In any other time in history or in another part of the world there would be a very high risk of that happening… it’s just that here we think we are safe, protected – even immortal: ‘those rules do not apply to us anymore!’ Ah – but they do. It is obviously so much wiser to live in the moment and enjoy ‘the power of now’ because we really do not know how long we’ve got and can’t presume! Life it turns out, is a gift not a right, and should be treated as such.
As Martin always tells his patients when he frequently has to break bad news – a cancer doctor in the family is another reason we live with the fact of our mortality on a daily basis! – so much of how we feel when we think about death depends on whether we know ‘where we are going afterwards’. It’s not something many people these days plan for… or are even sure about, but yes, he is right, our faith in Jesus’ promises does help… however it doesn’t ease the pain of loss or mend my broken mother’s heart.
It’s been a painful week and I am still longing to escape. Thankfully, once again, writing helps.