The other day my breast cancer buddy said to me “It’s really shit having cancer”.
It is really shit having cancer.
It is really shit being told you have cancer. It is even more shit having to tell people you have cancer. That’s knackering.
But the shittest thing was being told my cancer had come back. I was scared; horrified; angry with myself (and that’s interesting, isn’t it, and maybe another post another time). And when they told me it had spread to my lungs, I knew I was going to die.
So I decided that I would find a book that would tell me how to die. A step by step guide. I may even have imagined a flow chart.
I have bought books that give me advice on every conceivable topic – from having a baby to tidying my bedroom. Finding a book for this proved more difficult than I expected. I wanted something:
- Secular. No religious content. (And really – if I really believed in life after death, why would I be afraid of dying? Religious books on dying feel like cheating…)
- Practical. I don’t know quite what I anticipated. Something that would give me guidelines on how much time I should devote to worrying about death? A will template? Suggestions for controlling my children’s reading habits from beyond the grave? I think I just wanted something that would help me feel in control.
- Positive. Obviously.
- Well written. Because I might be in the process of shuffling off this mortal coil, but I don’t want to be reading something that makes me cringe.
The really interesting thing is that I’ve worked in mental illness for over 20 years now, and yet somehow I had not grasped the idea that it is normal to be afraid of death. Maybe I’ve worked with too many people with suicidal ideas – maybe I’ve got used to the idea that it’s living that’s the scary bit.
I’m not sure I even knew that I was afraid of dying. I simply didn’t think about it, except as something a long way off, that happened to other people. When people congratulated me first time round on “conquering” cancer, it was as if I’d become immortal. We could all stop thinking about death. Phew.
I still find it hard to think about dying – it’s impossible to imagine not being alive: not breathing, not seeing, not hearing. Not being.
So now I’m beginning to think that my journaling and blogging is actually me writing the book for myself. The magic self help book that’s going to sort it all out for me. Maybe I’m stumbling and fumbling towards some sort of understanding of what works for me, what helps me deal with the different emotions that roll up like waves in the ocean, and roll back down again – often seemingly at random. Maybe this is it.
Sarah–I have a book I read years ago when I was still nursing in Hospice–“TheTao of Dying,” by Doug Smith. I don’t know a heck of a lot about Taoism, though I know it is not a religious movement. The intro reads “The Tao Te Ching was written about 2,500 years ago by a man named Lao Tsu. The book was intended as a guide for living a meaningful life. Much of the book also seems quite appropriate for assisting in the facilitation of a meaningful death…” I skimmed some of it just now and though it is addressed to caregivers, hospice personnel, I find much in it that could be helpful to the person facing end-of-life. Not sure if it is available anymore, if it is on Amazon or somewhere else. If you are interested but can’t find it, let me know. I would be happy to mail you my copy. I know of many non-religious persons who have found much help in the Tao. As far as that goes, I have a copy of that as well. I am religious, but found much richness in many different ways of understanding things And I love it that you are using your journal…it really is within ourselves that we find the answer to so many questions. Peace
It’s taken me a while to get back to – I’m sorry about that. Thank you so much for your recommendation – I will definitely try and track it down. I am really touched that you took the trouble to respond to me, and really grateful to get the benefit of your experience. You are very kind.
Just so you know, I’ve just managed to order it from Amazon. It’s coming over from the States, it was only available second hand, and I’m really looking forward to reading it. Having moaned about the lack of books around, I am planning to do a few blogs on books I’ve found that have been really helpful. Thanks again for your suggestion.
So glad you have located it. I hope it will be meaningful to you. I think I shall reread it too. Not as a caregiver, but as a 72 year old! We are all on that journey to whatever’s next, aren’t we?!
We are indeed. That’s why we need to live well – in every sense of the word!