Death is a subject none of us particularly like to dwell upon. It's the 'final destination' for all of us as far as this life is concerned, and means the end of all earthly hopes and dreams - although, if the Good Book is correct, there'll be something altogether different on the other side of that great divide. Nevertheless, most of us avoid speaking of death. It makes us uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, death is less scrupulous about avoiding us. Over the past few days I've learned of the terminal illness of two people, one the spouse of a long-term online correspondent, the other a friend and fellow blogger. Both learned of their condition too late to do anything effective about it.
The lady and her husband have decided that it's not worth putting her through the hell of chemotherapy and radiation, particularly when the doctors give her a poor prognosis even with that treatment. She'll enjoy the remainder of her time with her husband and family and friends, aiming for quality rather than quantity of life. I applaud her decision, and will be praying for her, her husband and all around them.
Miss D. and I spoke with our blogger friend today. He's been given six months to a year before incurable cancer takes his life. He's as cheery as possible under the circumstances, but he's still looking after his elderly mother. I know the thought of leaving her care to others, who may not be as devoted as himself, must be weighing heavily on his mind. I may take a trip out his way in due course, to lend a hand for a while.
(Miss D. is a wonderful example of how to cope with this sort of adversity. She's lost all too many friends in Alaska to flying accidents - it's a far more common occupational hazard up there than it is in the Lower 48. For that matter, only a few months after we'd got engaged I had a heart attack, followed by a quadruple bypass. She promptly resigned from her job and flew down to help nurse me back to health, ignoring the disruption caused to her own life and career by doing so. She knows my heart isn't in the greatest condition, and may kill me sooner rather than later - although I hope and pray to have many years with her - yet she continues to enjoy each day as it comes, refusing to dwell on the negative, focusing on the positive. She's a real blessing to me.)
These double blows of bad news have reminded me, yet again, that we can take nothing for granted. All we're given is now. It's up to us to make the most of what we have right now, because it may not be here tomorrow - or, if it's still here, we may not be around to enjoy it.
- Tell those important to you that you love them. Do it now, and keep on doing it. Don't let them take it for granted . . . because when you're no longer able to tell them, you'll regret not having done so more often.
- Enjoy each and every day you're given. Don't spend all your time looking down at the problems and difficulties and challenges you face, and being gloomy. Look up at the sunshine, breathe deeply, give thanks for your life - even if it isn't a very good life by your standards. At the very least, it's better than nothing!
- If you don't have any particular faith, be grateful to those who gave you life, and try to give something back to those around you to make them glad to be alive. If you do have faith, give thanks to God for each day, seek forgiveness for all your faults and failings, and try to do better each day according to the standards revealed to us. Again, the time may come when it's too late to plead for mercy. Do so while you still can!
- Finally, be there for those facing the end. Don't shun them, or back away as if they were radioactive or rabid. Dying's hard enough at the best of times. It's worse when we have to face it alone, without anyone to lean on. Sure, we all die alone in the end; but a comforting shoulder, an arm around us, and a warm, friendly kiss, help us to carry our burdens when they seem otherwise intolerable. If we hope to receive those gifts in our hour of need, we'd better be giving them to others while we can . . . because 'what goes around, comes around' - or, if you prefer, see Luke 6:31.
John Donne put it well.
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.