Dealing with death

Whatever you believe, death through natural causes at 17 and 45 is just too young.

The last six months have been darkened by two deaths. Both were from natural causes – different cancers and it’s really brought home that no matter how young, healthy or resilient one is, human’s are also rather fragile creatures.

Back in September of 2011 I flew back to England for an unplanned visit. The best friend from UK days of my youngest son was in a hospice. He’s been struggling with bone cancer for a couple of years and despite a brief period of remission, suddenly all bets were off. No treatments were working, he was terminal, at 17 years old. My son wanted to spend time ‘hanging out’ with his friend before he died. So, we flew from Vancouver, back to Kent, UK for a week and my lad did what he wanted to do.

Fast forward to the start of January 2012. Someone my wife and I had become friendly with over the previous 10 months was at our house and, without dipping in to all the details, had a stroke. Once hospitalized, the root cause of the stroke was thickening of the blood from the ovarian cancer.  Ten short weeks later, the friend was dead, at 45.

Whatever you believe, death through natural causes at 17 and 45 is just too young.

Even though there was no blood relationship between myself and those that died, being exposed to people in their last weeks of life, and, in the latter’s case, being at her bedside as the final breath was drawn can’t help but have an impact on one’s own life. It’s a very clear reminder that whatever we think, our days can end far sooner than we’d like, and it doesn’t have to be as a result of an accident.

This would be far too long a post to work through every detail, so my focus is on what’s really been impressed on me over the last few months.

As a parent I felt the pain of my son’s friends parents. I have a child the same age. But it wasn’t just the ache inside, the emotions included guilt, my son is alive and I felt plain guilty about that when with the other lads parents. What was good about the situation? Well, hopefully knowing that their son (he) was worth a trip from western Canada at short notice said something to the other parents, and the lad himself.

The second situation was complicated in that the friend was in Canada by herself. She’d been carving out a new life and was looking forward to applying for citizenship. There was no partner, no family, no relations here. Just her. What that meant in reality is that my wife and I were suddenly the nearest thing to next-of-kin and a long distance relationship was started with the real family in the USA and UK. It was a somewhat surreal situation in some ways. However what was very real was the decline in health our the friend. Although there’d been a wonderful recovery demo the stroke, the cancerous cells were too prevalent and did not respond to chemo-therapy. What was very striking was that after being told that a second round of chemo had not had any affect, death followed within a week. It was heartbreaking to think that a friend had given up, that there was nothing to live for that made a difference.  Decision made, time to die.

In both instances my wife and I did what we felt was right. Treating with respect and dignity those in need. Yes, having our down moments and questioning what was happening, and in the case of our friend, laughing at some of the incidents, as it was the only way to deal with what was happening.

The outcome for me has been to think more about what can be now rather than get too involved in long term planning. Living for today has more meaning to me now, it’s not just some sort of ‘motivational’ statement. Even though in my case, life continues, I will never allow myself to be held hostage by work and I won’t be over worried by short term debt. There’s been a re-balancing. I’m not being irresponsible, but the reigns of mid-life have been loosened, and hopefully for the benefit of my family as well as myself.

So, no pics, no joy, just a chance to reflect. There’s no doubt a lot more that can be written, not just yet though. A few weeks of what passes for normality in my life is required.

1 Comment

  1. Ward
    June 6, 2012

    Our neighbour’s daughter at age 18 had a baby boy. She took very well care of him.

    At the age of 7 months he died, just like that. Ever been at a baby’s funeral? I don’t want to do that again.


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