Sometimes techniques that seem simple may evoke hard and difficult emotions. If you encounter such things using any of these techniques, please stop and talk things through with a counselor or spiritual advisor. It is always best to have someone by your side when you walk dark and difficult paths. I wish the internet was a substitute, but I don’t think it is. Real human relationship is life sustaining.
Seriously, I think what really distinguishes us from all the rest of the mammals out there is our story telling; not opposable thumbs, not civilization, but stories. We tell ourselves stories constantly. I think we partly do it to make sense of the world, which is sometimes, let’s face it, difficult to understand. Especially now, when this diagnosis changes your life, realize that you may start to tell yourself stories to make the world feel more stable. I did. Be careful what you say to yourself. For example, I never told anyone I had pancreatic cancer. I always said I have a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. I did that so I wouldn’t seat that idea of cancer within myself, wouldn’t make my life a foregone conclusion of quick death. I thought I was going to die but I didn’t want to give myself an expiration date. And I was open to a different ending.
Reading Randy Pausch’s blog at one point he says, well they found cancer in my lungs but we knew we would (emphasis mine). Patrick Swayze was asked by a reporter why he didn’t quit smoking. He said if it would make any difference he would, but it wouldn’t (again, emphasis mine). Their stories were already the stories of their deaths. Doctors are asked by patients to tell them how long they have to live. I did too. But it’s always a guess on the doctor’s part. Statistics say you have this long but there are always people who will die sooner or will die later. I wanted the later.
if you can live without counting on the future,
if you can exist in the here and now, this moment, and live your present life
if you can let your story unfold rather than being in control of the outcome
if you can love the minute you’re in right now
if you can live without a map of the future and still walk the road
then you can, at the very least, live the rest of your life in happiness, even joy. None of us know, not doctors nor pastors nor ourselves, what our lifespan is. So I’m suggesting, tell yourself good stories, if you’re going to tell a story at all. It’s so easy to get down and can seem so useless to get up. If my experience is any guide, the effort I put into telling myself a healing/funny/beautiful story was worth the effort. Still, I had to constantly remind myself to keep on track: I’d say to myself, “I have this day”, “I love that I got to see another fall”, “I realize how many people love me.” These were not lies and they weren’t pollyannaish and they’re weren’t affirmations; they were my story as I wanted to experience it. Sometimes it was simply to get through that day with some grace, sometimes it was just to relieve the sadness. If you’re going to die Claire, LIVE this day; turn your head to the sun and leave the darkness behind you. My own story, my own point of view; not being all guarded and brave, but truly free. For however and wherever and for however long it was going to be, it would my true story of beauty, happiness, joy, love; the way I wanted it told. The way I would hold it in my heart – not death, but sweet life.