If you are anything like the average person, the title probably made you cringe or you didn’t even noticed it, and moved on to the next article that might be something about ‘blue sky thinking’ and how you should be the best of you and start a new gym and diet plan, because it’s … September… or it might be about how to sustain that tan you got during the holidays… oh, and curls are back in fashion too, which is good for me.
Are you still with me? Good. Well, I have been thinking… I have concluded that Humankind ain’t kind at all. With everything that is happening around us…I generally don’t see many acts of kindness. So, we have established that.
Now I am trying to establish whether we are a truly ingenious species or simply stupid. Stupid in the sense that we don’t want to deal with reality… or we are extremely ingenious that we have invented ways to hide from this reality…
So, how many of you and how often do you think about death? Many of my Greek friends, at this point, are pulling at their shirt and ‘spitting’ towards their chest murmuring the words “ftou, ftou…” in an effort to cast the evil eye away…
It’s a subject I personally have not dealt with yet… and like probably most people I am afraid of – if that is the right word. I have, however, visualized the death of my parents, some other loved ones, and I immediately just cry my eyeballs out… I have been lucky and I have not had any losses close to me… none yet… so, I am aware that I will be facing this sooner or later. I also believe that I am going to live well into my 90s and always feel energetic and lively and feel less than my age. I guess I am also blessed with an excellent DNA inherited from my parents. I recently learned that the way I think also has a name…it’s called ‘Managing the Terror of Death’.
This past July an incident decided to stir up my little fantasy world of pink unicorns. I discovered a lump in my right breast the size of a walnut. I am quite well read in these matters, so some of the symptoms were quite alarming. It was hard and it didn’t hurt. I didn’t have any discharge though or redness in the area. Also, from as far as I knew, we had no cancer history in my family on either side, on any type of cancer, and definitely not breast cancer. And those of you who know me, know that I am a health freak and feed on all the stuff that most of you don’t like and look like birdseeds at best. Of course I enjoy the occasional pig-out and indulge in chocolate and scones… but it’s not the rule.
The next three weeks that followed were a nightmare. I felt paralyzed… I just didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t really see the point. I was thinking how I might lose my hair, my breasts… in just two weeks, I lost “me”…I was thinking how I didn’t want to impose myself on my partner…not in ‘’this’’ condition… I would wake up each morning and the first move was to touch the lump and hope it would have disappeared…
Suddenly I was noticing all the ads that exist in this country for cancer awareness and cancer charities… During that same week, a Greek professor who lived in the UK passed away from lung cancer … in her early forties, so she was younger than me and had children. I couldn’t’ stop crying… was I crying for her or myself…?
I was booked in for medical examinations and arrived in the waiting room of the clinic. This was a special unit for breast cancer only. Five women were there before me… all looking either at their phones, a magazine, in a distraught manner, or just gazing in the ‘emptiness’ of the room… My name was called and I was given a questionnaire to fill in… do you smoke? No… do you drink? No… and a bunch of other questions reminding me that my life is actually quite boring! The nurse then asked me to get on the scale so that she can weigh me… “with my shoes and clothes on?” “Yes…”, she said. I still DID take my shoes off… I was already wearing jeans and other ‘heavy’ clothing that would add to the weight. I was in despair, yet part of me was refusing to accept something negative and my vanity wouldn’t allow any extra weight to go ‘on record’.
I was then given a blue robe and a (shopping) basket to put my stuff in… I put the robe on and went to another waiting room with my basket… I was amazed how all the women avoided eye contact… we were all there for the same bloody reason…
Stop number one was the Doctor where you have a first discussion, she gets your history (again) and tries to touch and feel what you have found.
Stop number two was the dramatic experience of a mammogram where they try to squeeze one of your most intimate parts into this scanner… and I am a Double AA, so there isn’t a LOT there to squeeze anyway. You try to work with the Doctor even though it’s one of the most discomforting and also humiliating positions… Stop number two was the ultrasound… yes, it’s there and it’s clearly a cyst full of fluid. The decision was to empty it on the spot which they did with a needle. The colour was right and it’s only a cyst, nothing bad. I burst into tears of relief… I stayed there for several minutes to re-gather myself and I was still feeling shell-shocked. When I went out, my partner told me that at least 50 women paraded through that waiting room in less than 2 hours… and I bet that not all of them had the good news I did. It took me approximately four days to get out of the shock… I was trying to make sense of what just happened?!
And part of my motivation to write this article was because I did not want to forget. I wanted to have this always as a REMINDER… Human beings have a short memory on these things… and we go back to ‘’normal’’ as if these never happened and we take things and life for granted. As my partner says, there are two things that are definite in this life, Taxes and Death and he’s right.
I am totally unprepared for death, so I started researching about it… I know, this sounds theoretical, but to me, it is a start…. As the American psychologist William James suggested a century ago, death is indeed the worm at the core of the human condition. The fear of death seems to be one of the primary driving forces of human action. Ernest Becker, an American anthropologist and writer who died at the age of forty-nine, in his book “The Denial of Death” concluded that human activity is driven by unconscious efforts to deny and transcend death. So, how many of the things we do, we actually do because we want to find some (false) meaning and reach immortality? We have invented religions to offer us ‘comfort’ and rituals from the fact that our bodies will just rot in the ground and we will all be forgotten. Our cultures offer hope that we are part of something greater… we cling to those educational, cultural, religious institutions to resist to a very fact of life.
Personally, I have a long way to go and I am not prepared… To be continued…
Humans do have short memories indeed. Sounds like your experience is one of those life changing events that make you really think. I had some similar moments at the doctor and I think the change/reminder does stay in the long run. A long life is a gift and never guaranteed. Thanks for sharing this!
Thank you Paolo for taking the time to read this, I appreciate it. Yes, I agree with you, it DOES sort of stick with you in the long run.
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Maria, I had a similar experience with death when my son was born!!! It changed my whole life and I also chose not to forget. People are usually quite amazed when they hear me tell that story..how cool I am narrating or how they would never have imagined that I have experienced something like that..My life changed in an instant and from a happy mother holding in her hands her newborn child I found myself on the ICU of a cardio hospital. Just like that I went to other side. My first thought..God why me???? and after some time I asked myself another question. Why not me??
WOW… Amazing… I can’t start imagining how you must have felt… I LOVE how you chose to ‘reframe’ the whole experience…”why not me”..Thank you for sharing!