Yesterday I went to visit a woman dying of ovarian cancer. Although we haven’t had a life-long or even recent involvement I consider her to be a friend. Hospice says she has about a month to live. In her living room was a vase of roses, probably brought to her by the flower committee from her church. One irony is that until her illness she helped deliver flowers.
Thanks to hospice care, she is quite comfortable physically but not spaced out mentally from the drugs. That’s a good thing. I had a chance to tell her that I always found her to have a warm presence and when she spoke her manner and words confirmed her warmth.
It isn’t often we have an opportunity to say those things to people. Usually we (here I am speaking primarily of myself) take friends for granted, knowing on the one hand that we all die, and on the other hand denying that it will happen to anyone we know. But that’s just how we are.
My friend’s daughter thought that her mother was in denial about the seriousness of her illness. This was the first time I had seen my friend since her diagnosis and when I arrived at her home she told me she had cancer and it wasn’t going to go away. After the conversation with her daughter, I wasn’t sure that denial was at work.
What useful purpose would it serve for my friend to say to everyone, “I’m going to die within the month”? Once it’s said, then what? She has a strong faith, a belief in the hereafter, so what else is there to say? It seems to me that her remaining time is better spent visiting with friends and loved ones and being a positive example of dying isn’t a bad thing. We’re all going to do it; it’s just a matter of when and how. If she says to everyone who visits, “I’m dying,” it can lead to too much philosophying and the conversation never changes. But her way makes for an interesting last days. For example, she asked me about my daughter’s recent wedding. I know of another regular visitor who has grandchildren who are full of antics. And so on it goes. The ordinary is more comforting than theory. I think that’s how I would want to spend my last days.