Monday, August 31, 2009

Thinking about death

Thoughts of death come naturally at a funeral home. In fact they are virtually inescapable.

Especially if you have been diagnosed with cancer. Maybe two cancers.

Especially when everyone you meet wants to know how you are doing, or goes out of their way to tell you how good you are looking.

We buried Linda's mother on Saturday and family members had come from across southern Ontario, many of whom I hadn't seen in years. Not since the last family funeral. But they had all heard I had cancer, a very aggressive cancer, and were surprised to find me there looking much as I always have.

My good black suit may have been a little baggy on me, but I have regained about 10 pounds over the last month and have taken Lindsay for enough walks that I am regaining some colour. Even in my black suit I no longer look like a funeral director, or the star attraction of the funeral reanimated.

Two of the men attending the funeral have recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer and are facing their own series of diagnostic tests and uncertain treatment schedules. They wanted to know how it was for me and I was trying to explain why it's difficult to compare cancers and to assure them their own journey may be very unlike mine.

As the service began, I couldn't help realizing that something like this awaits me in the future. In fact, awaits us all. But likely sooner in my future than in your own.

I go for a CT guided biopsy on Wednesday that will determine if my cancer has metastasized to the bones of my hip and back. If it has, my expected life span will be greatly shortened. There will be no known medical cure.

And I will be back here with these same people playing a very different role in the very near future. And maybe they will be saying to Linda, how well I look. Or how well I looked the last time they saw me. Which would be today in my only slightly baggy suit.

It is hard to imagine your own death. To imagine a world going on without you. At least it is for me. Even here, in this place of death, in this chapel in the midst of a vast and beautiful cemetery filled with people who also could not imagine their own demise, I can't quite believe it.

And yet, as I said earlier, it awaits us all, and the only real question remaining is how soon.

After the service, a lone piper leads us under gray skies to the grave side. Mike and Neil, the pall bearers, her grandsons, lower stu's ashes into the ground beside her husband, and Lorna, the minister, gives us a moment for silent contemplation.

And I am overcome by a feeling, by a certainty, that this is not what awaits me. Not in the near future anyway. It is not a feeling born of an irrational fear of my own demise, it is not a running away from facing a hard truth.

Instead it is the embracing of a hard life to come. A long and difficult surgery and a series of treatments for a second primary cancer. I have a role still to play in Linda's life, in the life of my children and grandchildren. I have a book to write about this experience that is honest without being gloomy and undoubtedly a fight to get it published.

I have too much still to do.

The cemetery will just have to wait. It can have me eventually. Just not in the immediate future. I'm going to be way too busy.