Last Friday afternoon we had one of those “before and after” moments, meaning at one particular point in time everything changed. From now on we will be able to look back and say, “Yup, that Friday was the day.” It was that afternoon that we received news from a person very dear to us that it is most likely cancer. The diagnosis has not yet been confirmed, but the symptoms speak clearly enough. We would be surprised if test results said otherwise.
And so we are faced with those questions that surface, having been hidden away in the depths of what makes us human. Suddenly death seems very close and we hear our souls whisper: how much time? What will the next ten years bring? How will we deal with this uncertain future?
After hearing the news I took a short walk to pick up Liam from soccer practice. I chose a lighter jacket than the season demands, knowing I would be chilled, but wanting to feel the cold. Briefly I understood why some people choose physical pain over crushing thoughts. I was only uncomfortable, not in pain, but it brought my physical body to the forefront, quieting, even for a second, the questions.
My youngest daughter who accompanied me chattered away, not noticing I wasn’t really listening. I tried to fight the tears as to not cause distress among the children – we’re not quite ready to go there with them. Already I’m mourning, I thought. How could I possibly explain that here and now to the kids? Not yet.
Mourning – not because death is imminent (although I am reminded that indeed death is always imminent with or without a diagnosis of cancer) – no, but rather I am already mourning the “before” part of that Friday afternoon. Without warning or time for preparation, we have been catapulted into the “after” and suddenly life has changed. Although from an outside perspective, everything might still look normal – home from the hospital, out and about as strength allows, entertaining grandchildren – alone the knowledge of what’s going on inside (cancerous cells taking over and making brittle what should be durable) is enough.
Roles that define must be reinterpreted. A pillar of strength can remain, even if the strength can no longer be physical. A quiet, calming smile can be more encouraging than help with all the hard labor around the house. Perhaps those who have been chauffeured, must now become the chauffeur. Those who have been protected and pampered, must now find the courage to do the protecting. No, nothing is as it was, but only time will reveal how well we have mastered these new challenges.
Now with two kids in tow, Liam sweaty and excited about scored goals, the cold wind refreshed. As we walked I wondered if we should cancel our plans to attend a 50th birthday party that evening. How can we celebrate with such news weighing heavy on our hearts? Another blast of cold air, feeling like a breath of life. And then it hit me: How can we NOT celebrate? How can we not celebrate this life of 50 years, for who knows what tomorrow will bring? Yes, a super cliché that a writer should never use, but for the first time ever I deeply understood the truth of it.
It is not death I am afraid of (and I think this might hold true for our newly diagnosed dear one). Because of my faith, I am confident the party will continue. What makes my stomach drop is the missing out on life. Our humanness tells us to LIVE!, to keep moving forward, to enjoy each breath. But if we’re honest, it’s impossible to celebrate each moment we are given. We cannot “live consciously”, aware of every second of every day. We fall into routines, rhythms that define our day to day, giving us security. I often get lost in our routine, feeling secure and comfortable, unable to stretch it even a bit for an extra visit or phone call.
I’m still working on what it means to manage both – celebrating life and enjoying life’s routines.
But last Friday, for that brief moment, I understood. It meant going all out and wearing my fanciest dress and chicest shoes, even if I did have a few blisters by the end of the evening. It meant taking the chance of being over-dressed (I was!), and reveling in that moment of feeling like a knock-out. It meant celebrating LIFE!, even if questions of death plagued me.
And so I encourage you this weekend to go, celebrating this life.