Tag Archive: Death and Dying


I’m seven months into a twenty-four-month sentence, seven months since I read my diagnosis online. As I continually move onward into autumn – life’s autumn – I’ve come upon a couple conclusions: Time flies quickly, and dying’s not easy.

It’s hard not to realize just how the days are numbered. Correction, how my days are numbered. The days of my youth are unrecognizable. High school remains a distant memory. College dreams faded like over-ripened flower petals. And friendships have come and gone like freshly evaporated dew found of a desert morn. 

I am sympathetic to the ‘unaware.’ Working in healthcare has left me surprised at how many are both shocked and unprepared. Most of us aren’t ready for death. Heavy sighs and universal comments follow death, “I always thought we (substitute wife, father, husband, son, daughter, etc.) had more time.”

I’ll admit it hasn’t been easy. Much to my disillusionment, both pain and number of bad days have increased by the month. Between work and disease management, there’s been little comfort, little space to dwell in the emotional realm, and thoughts of reconciling conversation gave way to pain medication.

Yesterday I looked at my calendar and froze. Seven months post-diagnosis, even I thought I’d more time. 

However, here’s lessons I’ve learned thus far.

  • Regardless of how I hide my illness, I realize dying has an impact. When I look at my family, it’s hard to believe my father remains alive and will quite possibly outlive me. I will never fully understand how my departure will impact the family who remains.
  • Forget dreams. Live every day. I had visions of becoming a great writer. I didn’t become a great writer. I rely upon spell check, and grammar checkers like cars need gas. Without those modern assets, my college English teacher would concur that I, in essence, “Suck.” Yet, I write my blog notes when I can. And through it, I lived my dream versus dreaming of it.
  • I once entertained thoughts of saving the world. Throughout my years of life, only once did I receive an award for bravery. In truth, my part felt pretty much overrated. I never placed myself in jeopardy. Why? Simply because we were trained to mitigate the risks. Instead, I honored the men and women who did save the world. Walking among the graves of a national military cemetery in the Midwest, I found true saviors – men and women so much braver than I. 
  • Remain joyful for the gifts received: the many moments of fun, the travel, the cultures, love of others, and the food. But I leave others with insightful, loving thoughts. In turn, I hope they help pay it forward. Take care of the people in your life, and they’ll take care of you.
  • Believe in yourself. Don’t wait on others to accomplish something positive. If you write, write for yourself. If you’re music, be the harmony of notes others need to hear. 
  • Do not fail waiting for someone to drag you out of a ditch. You are just as good as anyone else.
  • Sometimes, you must turn a deaf ear to what others say is impossible. 
  • Don’t be afraid to get back on the bus. A mother once sent her son off to school on the bus. After returning home, the doorbell rang. Opening the door, the mother saw her son. 

What are you doing here?” 

I’m quitting school. It’s too hard, boring, and long.” 

The mother frowned, “That’s life, now get back on the bus.

Regardless what life tosses, get back on the bus. Embrace the days. They are all you’ve got. Rather than keep our heads above water, surviving but not “living,” Focus on living.

I reached for the blood pressure kit after being woken early by a racing heart. 3:47 AM flashed as my wrist blood pressure monitor beeped through its cycle. In less than a minute, 98 beats per minutes flashed, followed by 168 systolic and 87 diastolic. Should my BP have increased, I might be at increased risk.

I downed some medications, leaned against the bathroom sink. A momentary look at the toilet produced a soft laugh. “What if I die while using the toilet?” I muttered. A greater laugh ensued thinking of the poor slob who found me sitting on a toilet at the very moment I checked out. Hell of an obituary though, ‘Great guy, bad aim.’

By 9:15 AM my blood pressure had stablized to 117 systolic and 67 diastolic with 57 beats per minute.

Staring at the world from my dining room table, I asked a two-word question, “What’s next?” Having worked in the medical arena for the past decade, there were only a few people who wanted to hear how the patient was honestly doing. Most want to hear hope, courage, and positivity, not how unlikely the chances one would survive or how to live well during the process. For patients like me, there are no breakthroughs. There is no last-minute precision medicine or gene therapy. Such dialogue is written for only made-for-television movies.

I made one attempt to tell a close friend last night of my diagnosis.

Hey Cara,” I started. “I stopped to have some medical tests run late last week.

And of course, you’re doing great.

Well,” I sighed.

Interrupting, “You know my ankle is still bothering me from when I tripped six weeks ago. I have an appointment on Monday. Should I keep it?

Why not?

Because,” she whined, “I am starting to feel better. I know I complained about it, but I believe it’s getting better.

Then cancel.”

Oh well,” she continued. “I still think there’s some swelling. And it hurts if I push on it. But I have to pay a copay and the copay for x-rays. Medical stuff, always robbing anything, supposedly to help the people they serve.

I gave up.

What’s next has been highly contested for several hours. I could complete my 2019 Income Tax Return. Then again, would the effort prove valuable if I die April 14th? There is a humorous part of my soul that wants to die without doing taxes. Or maybe, I would complete them, but not mail it. When the tax man cometh, he will find a handwritten ‘Post-It-Note’ at the top of my folder, “I left $50,000 in the …” An additional ‘Post-It-Note’ underneath would continue, “If you go to my computer, you will find I deleted my browser history …” Those words in and of itself might keep them busy for months.

Many Buddhist teachings and quotes find their way into things, but they sometimes come across as nonsensical phrases meant to sound obscure. There is meaning behind the quotes. Many lessons remain useful today. When I write of all the things I thought, what’s next was answered in one somewhat silly Buddhist quote.

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Many of us are caught in the results of what we’re working toward or the way things will be when we finally achieve something. Truth is, that getting to where you want to go, being successful or even receiving a prognosis of a terminal disease doesn’t mean the work you’re called to do goes away. Up until the transition, I will probably do many of the same things I did before my diagnosis. If I cannot continue the mission called to do, if I can’t take on the simple tasks as best as I can, how can I conquer bigger things God requests?

Do your work. Do it well, and regardless of whether the message is a success or downright depressing, do it again. It’s all about being in the moment.

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