May 14, 2012

Random Thoughts About Dying

There really are days when I feel like I'm just sitting around waiting to die.  If I was more active - if I could be more active I should say - I might not feel this way.  But my physical condition limits me so much that I do a lot of sitting around.  I have to be very careful with physical activity due to the deterioration of the bones in my back and even when I do exert myself, I end up out of breath and have to hook myself up to the oxygen tank.  So I do sit around and I can't help but think about the time I have left and feel somewhat morose about the fact that I can't do more.

Thankfully, I can write and, thankfully I have you dear readers who find something informative and helpful in what I write.  That is truly a gift!  And I thank you for your side of the bargain.  So bear with me while I wander a bit today.  Maybe get a little repetitive.  Just to get a few things off my chest.

I really try to feel good each day, to keep a smile on my face - a stiff upper lip.  It's not that I'm pretending to be well.  In fact, when people tell me how good I look, I assure them that it's all on the outside.  The bad stuff is what's going on inside of me.   But I want to feel good and try to convince  myself that I am.  When I'm successful at it, I can almost feel like I'm into some kind of long-term remission, even though I know how unlikely that is with a growing, untreated cancer.  But I wonder if this is some kind of denial?  Wishful thinking?  An attempt to put a pretty face on a not-so-pretty situation?  Perhaps.  Does it make me feel better?  Maybe.  Sometimes.  But then it always comes back to something that reminds me just how sick I am and what my prognosis is.  So I may feel better in the short term but, over time, it wears on me and I start to feel worse about things.  It becomes harder and harder to feel good each and every day.  So maybe it's just not possible.  And it's ironic, but the more accepting I become of death and the fact that I am going to die, the more anxious I get about what is happening to me and perhaps it is that anxiety that gets in the way.  So a good part of my life now is avoiding anxiety producing situations.  The calmer I can make things, the better able I am to enjoy the day.

The other side of this coin is the guilt that I feel about not being able to be the constructive member of society (and, more importantly, my family) that I used to be.  I just can't do many of the common day-to-day things that I took for granted before (like cutting the grass, taking out the garbage, etc.), that made me feel normal.  I don't get up in the morning and go to work to earn a living any more.  Perhaps it's more understandable to think in terms of feeling useless rather than guilty.  Even though I know it's the cancer that's created this new situation and not me, I still feel a twisted sense of personal guilt that can turn a good day into a bad day.

And when I'm gone, how will I be remembered?  Will I be that morose guy who dropped out of life when he took medical leave?  Will I simply be Dianne's husband who passed away?  Or will I be rembered as someone who made the most of his situation, maybe not every day but overall?  I sure hope it's the latter, but who knows.  Maybe I won't even care once I've made the transition to the other side (whatever that might be) but I think it will matter to Dianne who has loved me for all that I am and who works so hard to make sure that I can be happy every day.  For ultimately, she is the one I care most about.  She is the one who will keep my memory alive longer and stronger than anyone. And she is the one, today, who needs me to be happy because it impacts her own happiness as well.  We are in this together, after all.


Anonymous said...

Doug I can for one say you will be remembered as a true inspiration, and will not be forgotten.

Hang in there :)

Anonymous said...

You still contribute much, it's only the method of contribution that has changed.

Let someone else mow the lawn...I'm sure it makes them feel good to do it for you.

Kirsten said...

You are definitely the latter for me - making the most of his situation - and for many people. This I know for sure. You will most definitely not be forgotten!

Take care of yourself.

eKim said...

Doug, thank you so much for your wonderful words. When I was at hospice yesterday for my volunteer shift, I was thinking of you.

I sat with a lady who was all alone who was in distress. You are so lucky to have Dianne. The doctors and nurses had been in and did what they could, but medication and comfortable pillows can only do so much. What could I do? I had no clue.

She was cuddling a small teddy bear as though it was her last connection to this world. Her speech was unintelligible, but the sounds that she was making were of an unsettled spirit. What could I do? I thought of you, Doug and the eloquent words that you have spoken in your blog.

I reached out to her and she grasped my hand with both of hers as I spoke words of peace and comfort to her. Here I was, a complete stranger, that she had met for the first time, but she was holding on to me as though we had known each other forever. I may have been a complete stranger, but in that moment, I was the only person there. I was temporarily her companion in this great journey of hers. After a long while she settled and her breathing became more regular and the muscles in her face and hands relaxed. I wished her peace one final time as I left her room.

This is where you come in, Doug. As I sat there having no idea what to do, I pondered over your words and somehow I found myself doing exactly the proper thing at the right time. You see Doug, 99% of the residents in the hospice do not share the complete story of their journey with us. Most of the time I think that it is because they are “talked out” or their disease and/or medication make it impossible. As a result we see only the tip of the iceberg of their saga.

I am using your story to help me understand (in general) some of the multitude of thoughts and experiences that have shaped their journey so far. And surprisingly, even without knowing the precise details of their journey, I am better able to reach out to them with compassion and comfort.

For this, Doug, I send you much gratitude. Because of you I will forever be able to improve as I continue my journey as a hospice resident support volunteer. Importantly, your words will help me become a better person. – Michael Corrigan

raptordreams said...

Hi, Doug

From what I've read today, I hear that you need something to occupy your mind more than how "useless" you are, how "unproductive" you feel, how anxious you are. I can see where you would feel that way, and I won't deny, can't deny what you feel. Reading this made me feel anxious, so I can only imagine how anxious you really feel.

It sounds to me as if you have shut down emotionally and spiritually, and in that way, I don't feel that you are able to make the most of your situation, other than to make it more plightful.

Gently, I offer to you the suggestion that your new normal is not the same as the old normal. To compare yourself to those around you can do nothing more than depress you.

You know, it's not too late to start a new adventure, one of looking back and recalling and telling your readers about accomplishments from the time you can first remember to this day. Perhaps you started walking before you were a year old. There are many who have walked nor never will. Read about walking and discover how difficult that actually is. You are still able to do something difficult.

I would also encourage you to talk to grief counsellors, spiritual advisors and share your thoughts with them. They may help you to ease your own anxiety. Another difficult thing to do.

There are some things that you can no longer do. But I do know that you can do more than spin in your head.

As a reader, I would be interested in these experiences.

Best wishes to you

Anonymous said...

I will remember you. I think of you often and read all your updates. If I will remember you and I don't even know you, the people who do know you will remember you much more vividly and profoundly.

But you are doing something. You are reaching someone. And I'm grateful.

Anonymous said...

We'll all remember you Doug as an inspiration. You've made an impact on my life!

Jjodie9 said...

Hi Doug,
I have been reading your blog for some months now,ever since I did 200 hours work as a student nurse at our local hospice. I find it fascinating. Recently I recommended it to my supervisor, and she passed it along to a lot of other nurses. So what you are doing is unique and worthwhile and is making a contribution to nurses' understanding of some of the twists and turns of the dying journey.
Well done, and all the best,

Laura Shook said...

Hi Doug,

Thank you for sharing openly with us. I can imagine how useless you are feeling, and the struggle to feel "good" every day. But I want to add my voice to those who have already commented...

Having recently fought stage 3 rectal cancer, I still often wonder what I'll do and how I'll feel if it recurs. I am so thankful that you are sharing your experience. It is invaluable to the rest of us. You really are using your life to make an impact on so many, including me.

So, as you rest and wait, hold our stories and names in your mind and know that you have encouraged and inspired all of us!

Laura Shook

Anonymous said...

Hello Doug & Dianne
I hope that the IV drip has stabalized you, Doug.

I am following you on your Blog and on Facebook.

I only discovered your blog recently, but I have read all of it.

I am using your comments as a “self study” learning experience with the hopes that it will make me a better hospice volunteer.

I will be ETERNALLY greatful to you Doug. Yes, I do believe that I will have the pleasure of meeting you in the next life, Doug.

I just re-read this from the comments posted to your Blog:

Lizzy Miles said...

“I certainly don't know what happens after we die, but from my hospice work, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that you will have help from both sides during the transition. “

I too have the same impression as Lizzy, Doug.

I am not a “church-goer” but I consider myself to be spiritual.

This may be fanciful or perhaps even delusional, but here it goes:

Science state that matter cannot be created or destroyed – it only changes form.

We observe ice and believe our rational senses when we see it turn to water.

Similarly, we can observe steam when water is heated and changes form again.

Why then do we have such difficulty as humans imagining our corporal selves evolving into our spiritutal selves?

Isn’t the demarcation only a thin line, invisible to mortal man?

In hospice volunteer work, I have had the honour and privilege of standing by at the moment of passing.

It isn’t difficult for me to imagine this person (a fellow sentient being) transforming from the earthly state into another state of existence as spiritual being.

I believe that standing by on the other side of this mystical, magical line are other spiritual beings, joyfully helping us transition.

I am writing this more with my heart than with my brain. It is difficult to express emotions with mere words, so excuse my clumsy attempts.

Happiness is transient and oh so changeable. Joy is constant – we only have to incorporate joy into our belief system.

My belief system brings me joy (which transcends mere happiness) and is such that it enables me to also sense great joy on the other side.

I see this as a warm welcoming, a reunion of family and old acquaintances, an end to suffering, and the joy of knowing an eternal, everlasting life.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t view myself as some kind of “Earth Angel” on this side of the line - only a humble man feeling such joy in showing loving-kindness as I would want shown to me. But I do rejoice in the presence of those on the other side.

That is the strangeness of faith. To the believer no “proof” is necessary. To the skeptic, no “proof” is sufficient.

I hope that my words bring comfort, Doug, Dianne. I wish you love and peace.

Michael Corrigan

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