Life… and Death

I got word today that my Auntie has cancer. She will have some testing to make sure. Some is the key word. She is adamant that there will be no treatment, no chemo or radiation. She is nearly 95 and that is enough for her. She has talked about the end of her life for years now, in a joking fashion… sort of… but with the knowledge that her quality has diminished. She has lived with the awareness that she is limited and fragile and not the same person she was decades ago. She is missing her partners, some of her siblings. She is tired. 

While she will refuse treatment, others will go after their cancer like they have been thrown to the lions. Well, they have! They will pursue any and all treatments known in this world in an effort to stave off the end of their lives. Modern or archaic, East or West, drugs or twigs, every known way to kill the cancer and retain life will be undertaken. Leave no stone unturned!

I think both options are brave. I bow my head in awe of each path and each choice. In my opinion, there is resolve and strength in each decision.

We live in a world that cherishes the “fight for life”, the “overcoming of the odds”, the success in the face of failure. I get it and I appreciate what it takes to overcome an adversity and move forward. Struggle builds character; living without makes us appreciate what we have; Applause for your ability to fight back and win. I get it. 

Conversely, I think we also need to cheer and support that person who says NO, or NO MORE to a struggle. We can hold close that person who has had enough, who is tired or just wants peace. They have chosen for their fight to be over. That person is taking control and living according to their rules. We can admire that person as well.

I think it takes as much bravery and courage to look death in the face as it takes to give it the middle finger. I think it takes as much resolve and fortitude to embrace our end as it does to run screaming into a new beginning. These are the bookends to our middle. Seeing the end of our life is really just a way to put a finality on what started with our birth.

One bookend is our birth, the other is our death. The really, really good stuff is everything that happens in between! Does it really matter how or why that second bookend comes about? Perhaps we saw it coming and perhaps we did not. There are so many things we cannot ever control. 

Choosing treatment, or not, still puts the control into our own hands. What a gift that is! I shudder to think about the scenario where a life is taken without warning, without preparation, with no notice at all. Imagine that car crash, accidental drowning, falling off that cliff, the stroke that we do not recover from. There are so many ways lives are unexpectedly and unknowingly removed from this world. Wow…

Let’s think about this for a hot minute. We can know the end is coming, like with illness or disease. We can also have life snatched away from us in the blink of an eye. One morning we leave for work or to run an errand and we are never seen alive again. Ever. The end. 

So, what do we do with all of this? How do we process illness or disease or accidental death or natural aging? How can I live knowing it may all come crashing down at any time in a number of ways?? So much uncertainty, so many unknowns, so much to think about. 

If this happens to a loved one, we can turn our focus on the middle. We give that person whatever they may need at the time. We make their bookend about them and not about us. We respect their journey and their choice and we dig deep. We dig deep into our faith, into our humanity, into our love for one another. We live our lives in gratitude and we honor those who are important to us.

I don’t want to live with regrets. I do not want any loose ends in my life. I know there are a couple not of my doing, but I cannot control others. I can only control me. Have I said all I need to say? Have I made those connections I wanted to make? Have I made the most of my time between the bookends? The only part in this I control is the middle. The only parts that matter are what happens in between. I had no control over my birth and I will have no control over my death. I will live in the middle. I will live in the now. Today, I will live. 

My current journey is a way to beef-up the middle, to expand the now, to add more precious moments. I spent many years living my middle according to the rules and expectations of others. Now I live according to my rules and expectations, my wants and desires. Good or bad choices, they are still mine. I call the shots and that matters a great deal to me. I am choosing how to fill my bookends. I am choosing my middle. 

Cheers to what happens in the middle of your bookends. May it be all you want, need, and desire. 

Cheers Auntie!

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