“You’ve got this life and while you’ve got it, you’d better kiss like you only have one moment, try to hold someone’s hand like you will never get another chance to, look into people’s eyes like they’re the last you’ll ever see, watch someone sleeping like there’s no time left, jump if you feel like jumping, run if you feel like running, play music in your head when there is none, and eat cake like it’s the only one left in the world!”
~ C. JoyBell C.
This post is the next in my Wednesday series on death and dying…
Many years ago, my friend Pixie was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. It was caught late because she was breast-feeding, and doctors kept telling her she had mastitis. It was only her continued urging that led to her ultimate diagnosis. Despite using both aggressive traditional and alternative medicine the cancer continued to progress.
With her initial diagnosis and surgery came much attention from friends. But then Pixie’s illness dragged on.
Friends stopped calling. Family came much less frequently. The immediate crisis had been averted, and other folk went back to their regular lives. Some also stopped visiting or calling because they didn’t know what to say, or what to do. Chronic and terminal illness can be very lonely.
I was also seriously ill. So it was logical that Pixie and I should keep each other company. She would go to my house, or I to hers. We talked a lot about life. We talked a lot about death. Both of us had been given a poor prognosis. Both of us had experienced physicians tell us that we were dying.
Eventually I found a new doctor, and a new regime that seemed to promise better outcomes. My outlook improved. But Pixie continued to decline. Soon she needed a cane to walk. She was frail, and tired easily. She could no longer drive. Her life became an endless round of medical appointments and resting at home.
One morning she rang me. She’d had more bad news. There were no treatment options left for her. Her doctors could only suggest pain management and palliative care. Could I come over for a visit? Yes, I could. (this was back in the days when I was still driving!) Dress up in something pretty, she said. Wear a nice perfume. We are going out!
I drove to her house, and Pixie shuffled to the door to greet me. Instead of her usual dressing gown and slippers she was wearing a pink dress, pearls and flats. She had a scarf tied over her head where only patchy hair had ever regrown. Closing the house door firmly behind her she took my arm. Come on, she said. I’m taking you for coffee!
Are you drinking coffee, I asked, surprised.
I am now, she laughed. And so are you. Today we are ordering like we are living, not dying!
We ventured a short distance to a large local plant nursery that had a gift shop and a cafe attached. Taking my arm, Pixie and I walked slowly through the gardens and rows of plants for sale, and then took a seat in the little cafe. It was still so early that the staff were busy watering the plants and sweeping the paths, ready for the day ahead.
A waiter came and took our order and very quickly two excellent coffees arrived.
Pixie picked up her coffee, inhaled and smiled rapturously. I sipped mine tentatively. It was delicious. Neither of us had drunk coffee for the longest time. It wasn’t on our cure-everything-diets.
We were quiet for a moment, perusing the menus. None of it was the food we’d usually eat. The lemon tart looks amazing, Pixie said. So does the eggs benedict, I added. We got both, with extra side plates so that we could share. Pixie made sure that her lemon tart came with cream and ice-cream.
What’s the occasion, I asked, once the waiter had left with our orders.
I’m sick of dying, Pixie said. I’m still alive. I’ve been alive for ages and I’m going to be alive for a bit longer yet. Hopefully. So I’ve decided to live while I’m alive. Dying is overrated, and it isn’t any fun!
We were both quiet for a moment, sitting with the truth of that.
It is so easy for dying to sneak in and rob the colour and the pleasure from life while you’re still alive.
For the eight months before Pixie became completely bedridden and shifted into that final stage of life we continued to have little outings, or on days when Pixie wasn’t up to a car trip I’d bring the world to her via treats, flowers, conversation and news.
One of our most precious days was when I wheeled her bed out onto their patio so she would feel the dappled sunlight and smell the fresh air of the changing seasons. She could look up through the pergola and see green leaves and flowers. She could see trees. She said it made her feel connected to life in a way that she couldn’t experience from between the white walls of her room.
My dear friend taught me something very important about dying.
Even when you are dying you are still living. That time is precious. There can be so much pleasure and value in it if it is lived and savoured.
So, if you, or someone you know has a chronic or terminal illness, think about how to have more shared experiences of living. This goes for people who are aging too!
Take Pixie’s hard-earned wisdom and let it shape your life. Celebrate and live life. For yourself and for your loved ones. Let the dying live. Help them to live while they are still alive. It will enrich life for both of you.
Sending so much love your way, Nicole <3 xx