not a courageous battle

i’m going to say some ugly things, but they are real for me, and i give myself permission to speak my truth.

i became aware of these ugly feelings when i was talking to my out of town besties about how it went down with my aunt.  i’ve found several times that people assume that a person who gets cancer relatively young (58) doesn’t want to die.  in this case, that’s a wrong assumption.  deciding not to get treatment was not a difficult decision for her.

to be sure, when you get a recurrance of cervical cancer, your chances are very slim for a recovery.  for most people, chemo doesn’t do anything during your second occurance.  you would mainly be hoping to slow the growth and expansion of the cancer.  prognosis the second time around is bad.

my aunt was a person who thought things through, who weighed the evidence, made informed decisions.  the statistics, her finances, the odds.  but if i stop romanticizing it, her first words to me were about how her children were grown, her husband was dead, and her mother didn’t need her anymore.  in addition she hated her job and lived alone.  what did she have to live for?  she presented such a passionate, pitiful, and convincing argument… really… what could i say?  i bought it.  you can’t inspire a person to appreciate life who is plainly over it.

her oncologist recommended she try at least one round of chemo.  she nitpicked the details of his approach and pushed the option off the table.  what for?  she asked.  a few more months?  my best friend is a doctor, he visited her and encouraged her to look into a second opinion at the university hospital.  maybe there was a drug trial.  maybe there were other methods of treatment.  she half-heartedly agreed to look into it.  i never heard anything more about that.

now that she’s gone, i think back on this summer.  did this really happen?  at the beginning of may i was looking forward to finishing grad school and starting a gleefully unstructured new life.  a couple weeks later, i was staring at her death sentence  and convincing myself to get on board, support her, normalize this idea of giving up on life.

sitting around the table at the funeral home, brainstorming her obituary, we were trying to decide whether to put her cause of death in the announcement.  i said aloud that she didn’t really fight cancer.  she didn’t lose a battle.

some of the condolence cards i’ve received have talked about her courage.  i have blinked past the words, numbing out, holding her up saintly, respecting the dead.  but the truth is, she didn’t want to live.  she did not try to live.  she was not afraid to die, but she was afraid to die in pain.  she felt absolutely awful about leaving us and would cry those pitiful tears, putting me in the position to blurt out those compulsive words of reassurance, it’s not your fault.  but the truth is, she did leave us.  without a fight.  with this depressive narrative that runs through many members of our family, talking about how life isn’t worth it.

i’ve said before that i respect her decision not to seek treatment.  i still mean that, i can respect that choice.  but i’m starting to come into the anger and hurt and disbelief.  i am facing my initial feelings that i shoved into a little box in my stomach back in may.  she didn’t want to live.  i was not enough, me and my sometimey companionship.  her children were not enough – they don’t live with her anymore.  her life was not enough to fight for.  and it feels like shit.  and i’m so mad.  i want to call names.  like coward.  keeping these ugly feelings in a box in my stomach with a pretty bow called acceptable grieving is not going to serve me now.

back to life

today i return to work, a regular schedule, some normalcy.  i feel ok, i’ve learned a lot this week about grief and its waves.  i’m aware that sometimes it will overcome me and at those times i need to just ride it out. 

a couple of times in the last few days i have been surprised by a vision of myself leading group or doing therapy.  that professional identity has seemed so far away.  i can still keep it at bay for a little while longer as this week is an intensive off-site training. 

i’m grateful for the opportunity to add some structure back in, to have a sense of purpose to my days outside of grief.  the last thing my aunt said to me was that it was important for me specifically to stay in the land of the living rather than focus on the death and sickness and sadness.  today i’ll honor her by going to work.  🙂