This is one of several essays from my private cancer journal. It is not intended as anything than a record of my states of mind as I struggled with the disease and the effects of the treatment.
Death, Grief and Responsibility
Death is never a pleasant subject in our society, especially if we have been diagnosed with cancer. It can remind us of our own mortality.
Until a few days ago, the death of another has not directly touched me for years.
Yes, I've lost good and dear friends to prostate cancer and I cried for each one but they were hundreds or thousands of miles from my home. They were not part of my actual, right here, every day life.
That changed a few days ago.
I was at my desk when Caren came in, carrying the cordless phone, saying that Jack was dead. As she held the phone out to me, the world was unreal. I took it but the tears had already started. It had been an accident, I was told, and he was gone.
I hung up the phone and my grief poured out as Caren, also crying, embraced me. We could say nothing but I remember the her warmth and her comfort, even in her grief. I don't know how I could have taken the news alone.
THE DAYS AFTER
Grief is grief. What crushes one might seem stupid to another, but grief through any loss is grief. It hurts and it rips into one's Being.
As the days of loss followed, it began to dawn on me that what happened to me with the loss of Jack could happen to my Caren. If I died, she would be thrown into grief but who would embrace her, as she had held me? Who would cook her meals while she -- as I had been -- was rendered useless, trying to push aside memories and feelings that would only bring more tears.
I have privately thought about my possible death. There is no way that one with advanced cancer can avoid the subject. So I had taken what I felt were the mandatory steps like preparing a will and a power of attorney (steps that anyone should take, regardless of health) but once those were done, the thoughts about the prospect of my own demise were always about me. Would it be easy or pain-filled? Would I be bed-ridden? How soon would I lose the ability to write?
Sitting on my Bodhi Porch (as I like to call it), I realized how my concerns about my death had omitted how it might effect others, starting with my Caren, as Jack's had effected me.
When I created Phoenix5, early in 2000, it was going to be a site by men (drawing on their experiences) for men with prostate cancer. Then one day I read a message from a woman who spoke about the pain that the woman carries silently. I printed the message out and gave it to Caren and asked if this were true. Yes, she said, with tears in her eyes.
That was when my life (and Phoenix5) changed. I had been omitting not only my Caren but all wives and companions from the disease. It had been about me and I had not considered how it might effect another.
Now, sitting on the porch, I realized that I had done it again.
In every way possible, I have stressed the importance of including the wife/woman/companion in the fight against the disease but I had not extended it to the deep, personal grief that a companion or family member will suffer if and when the end came. I had made a will but I had not provided for her grief, not to mention other family.
Once again, I had been so selfishly centered on the prospect of my death -- from how to avoid it to how to face it -- that I had omitted how it might effect others.
Realizing it and wanting to do something about it helped to lift the grief of the last few days. It doesn't mean that I am not pained by Jack's death, but I can learn from it and maybe do something. I don't know what to do, but I have a responsibility to try, rather than just waiting for time to heal this grief and -- worse -- leaving Caren to deal with her grief alone, should I die.
I think Jack would like it, that he could give again, even in my tears of his passing.
A few days later, I raised the issue on a mailing list and it prompted a number of replies. That post and a selection of replies has been preserved at a new section, Coping with Death & Grief.
Realizing I had omitted others from my disease.