January 23, 2012

Who am I and what the heck am I doing here?

As I said in my last post, I choose not to believe in any particular religious dogma or theism. I also don't want to classify myself as an Athiest or a Humanist either because I don't like the idea that, after we die, there is just....... nothing. I really need to figure out something comfortable to believe in. You might think that this demeans the power of faith however, in the absence of the possibility of proof, a comfortable belief is as valid as any. To be honest, if I weren't dying, I probably wouldn't worry about it at all. But I am.

I am a good person, I have lived a good life, and that should be enough of a religion for living. But I am concerned whether how I live my life effects what will happen when I die. So I have to ask, "What the heck am I doing here and what the heck am I supposed to be doing while I am here?" Sometimes I wonder, If we're just here for a short time and there's nothing afterward, then why bother doing anything at all? In a hundred years, nobody will remember me anyway. But what if there is a heaven? Now there's something to think about! Maybe it is important to have a sense of why we are here and how our lives effect our afterlife. The "formal" religions use their religious beliefs and dogma to answer those questions for us but I think this often borders on the disingenuous. They claim to know with certainty why they are here and where they are going when they die. And they should be very happy to die, I would think.

As I've said, I personally don't believe in the Christian view of God, nor do I believe that there is a master plan of any kind. If there is some kind of master plan, it certainly doesn't include a predetermined list of who wins the lottery, which sports team wins a particular game, which people live well while others starve, which contestant wins a challenge on a reality show, etc. You would think that people who pray to God for his intervention in these types of things and thank him when they win, must be pretty shocked to find that He actually plans for them to die...... sometimes horribly! It just goes with the territory.

This is something I can believe in - that how we live our lives and how we prepare for our deaths is completely up to us. If we are here for any purpose at all, it is simply to live - to be born, to live as long as we can (loving and procreating along the way), and to eventually die. That's it. There's no more guidance than that. But in that belief, there are many decisions and choices to be made.

Ernest Becker, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "The Denial of Death" suggests that it is the fear of death (or our inability to deal with it) that drives us to determine a "role" in life and that role often becomes our "purpose" for all intents. I'm comfortable with that. But in that, there is much to choose. For example we can, and do, chose who we are. I believe that the "role" we define for ourselves - the characterization of who we are and what we do - depends on the relative balance we choose amongst key dimensions such as family, friends, spirituality, work, etc. This also determines, to a large degree, the other choices we make along the road from awakening to death. Are we family-oriented or are we destined to lead from a political platform? Are we focused almost exclusively on ourselves and the pursuit of wealth, or do we devote our lives to helping the poor? Are we workaholics or alcoholics? Or both? And, ultimately, are we happy or sad, full of regrets when we finally lay on our deathbed?

I believe this much - that we alone determine who we are and how we behave throughout our lives and that this effects our state of mind as we face the end. We can choose to believe in the ideals of a specific religion and to live a "religious" life, or we can ignore religion all together and just live a good life. If we live well, does that mean we die well? If we live a good life, do we go to a "nice" place? What really happens when we - schoolteacher, streetsweeper, minister, politician, businessman, housekeeper, billionaire or vagrant - die and leave our earthly works behind?

That is the next question to explore.

PERSONAL UPDATE

I have been particularly ill for the last couple of days and, now that I think about it (and as my dear Dianne reminds me), I haven't been well for several weeks. Looking back, I felt pretty good at the beginning of the summer, not bad at the end of the summer, somewhat worse during the fall and I am much worse now than I was at the beginning of December. I sleep so much now and when I'm awake, I'm exhausted. I am out of breath doing anything. When I do wake up, most of the time I feel ill and just want to stay in bed. But I force myself to get up so I can get things done (read my post on Wrestling with Time).

Based on how I feel, what I know of this disease, and discussions with health care professionals, I realize that I am now visibly starting to die. The cancer is wearing away at my body which is tiring from fighting it. I have no interest in eating and it is only due to the constant oversight of Dianne that I am not losing weight yet. I now don't think that I will make it to the end of this year and it has been suggested to me that I may not be well enough to attend my daughter's wedding in August. My daughter is now talking about moving up the date but, as much as I want to be there, I don't want her to disrupt the complex planning that has already taken place for her to have the wedding of her dreams. This isn't easy for any of us and we'll have to see how it will play out. I feel so guilty. I know I shouldn't, but I still feel that way. I want to cry and I do. This sucks.
Doug

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Doug,
I just wanted to reach out because I read all your posts and am extremely moved by your words. I lost my aunt very suddenly on Saturday to a different disease and it has been hard on my whole family. She had a good life and at 68 maybe it was her time but nobody was expecting it to happen so soon. I feel like I should have learned from reading your blog for so many months to never take moments with sick family members for granted but I still feel this incredible guilt at perhaps not being as available as i could have been. Anyway, you are inspirational and I'm praying for you and for your whole family who I feel I almost know now. I hope you feel fulfilled and loved as I hope my aunt did, too. Take care and God bless.
-Anna

Lori Hope said...

Doug, it is truly awesome (not in the milquetoast way "awesome" is used of late, but the jaw-dropping, inspiring "awesome") that in your waking moments you are so generously sharing your insights, intelligent spiritual explorations, and your raw emotions. I explore this as well in my own heart, as you know, but having a mentor such as you means the world to me and I know so many others.

I hope and pray (not sure to whom, but I certainly put out requests to the Spiritual Powers That Be) that you make it to and well beyond your daughter's wedding. And that after all is said and done, you will "save me a seat at the bar." That's what my dad said to a friend that he would do after he died.

Although no one can know where we go afterward, I have a strong and sure sense that we don't just disappear. I know I feel my dad with me- and others who I have lost to cancer and other diseases. They are not just in my memory but "out there" in an almost palpable way. I see them in birds, insects, and sometimes other people. It's inexplicable but so real to me. I hope you will appear before me and I before you if I go first.

Take care, my friend, and I look forward to reading your next post.
Love to you and Dianne,
Lori

Anonymous said...

Hi Doug, Thanks again for your words of painful truth! If I had a magic wand I would take this all away from you, and make you cancer free.....
I have a question for you: I have heard many family member stop people from entering the room of the dying patient and stating they need sleep, don't wake them up! I am wondering if you had a visitor arrive while you were sleeping would you want to be woken up to see them?
I have heard my inner voice saying go in and hug and cry and tell them how you love them, don't worry about sleeping they will have plenty of that??? Should I ever voice this thought? I would not want to miss someone important to me! However I may say to the visitor that they may be responsible for the conversation if the patient is too tired to talk!!! Thoughts XOXO

Anonymous said...

Even though I don't know you, I feel a little bit as if I do. Whenever I read your courageous and honest blog, I find more to ponder. I guess most of us don't know the full answer to who we are or what the heck we're doing here, but we can know a bit. Lately I think of you as a Wrestler. You wrestle with a killer disease and with the biggest questions of life and love. Even as your body's going down. It's amazing. And inspiring.

There was an old Hebrew story about a man who wrestled with an angel. I think he was wounded for life, but he got a blessing out of it. I hope you find your blessing Doug. And you're so much more than just a Wrestler, of course. Even while I feel your pain and loss, I know you've let me do that. You're always real. Thanks for showing us how the hardest parts can be done.

K said...

Hi Doug,

Thinking of you and like Lori I hope and pray that you make it to your daughter's wedding. I know how much this means to you.

Take care,
Kirsten

Doug said...

An answer to Anonymous about whether visitors should be allowed in to see someone who is dying but sleeping.
It's not an easy question because it depends on many things. At one level, dying people tend to sleep a lot, as I understand it, so waking them up for a visitor may be a common occurence. And, you're right, we will have lots of time to sleep when we die. But if someone is not well and needs their sleep, you do have to listen to the caregiver. My wife knows when I need my sleep. It would be better to plan a visit rather than show up. And an email or a letter might be just as effective in letting the person know you are thinking of them and that they had an impact on your life.
There was a young man who passed away last year of cancer. I hadn't known him well, but he did come to visit me once to talk about cancer and I felt a strong connection. But when I sent him a note, near the end, asking if I could drop by, he told me that he needed to spend as much time as possible with his family. He meant his remaining time. I was disappointed but I understood it and respected it. So I never did see him again and didn't get to tell him how much I respected his strength. The lesson in that is I shouldn't have waited so long and that is the message I would give to you. Don't leave it until it's too late. And if it's already getting late, then a call to the caregiver and a written note may be your best approach. As much as I like to hear from old friends, I want my last days to be with family. I'm sure you would understand that.
I hope this answers your question.

Michael Johnsons said...

Hey Doug, I am deeply moved by your post. I lost my uncle last month and I feel like I should have learned from reading your blog that never take for granted a dying family member. Anyway, I also hope that you make it to your daughter's wedding.

hospice care

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