Three big names died this week. All from cancer. Actor Alan Rickman. Singer / songwriter David Bowie. And Celine Dion’s husband and manager, Rene Angelil.
At the same time, my own family has been dealing with my mom’s recent cancer diagnosis back in late November, and the lead-up to her surgery, which was this past Tuesday.
So many emotions have taken place this week for me. Its been emotional turmoil, to say the least. My mom is going to be okay. We think. Nobody ever really knows for sure, do they? But we think that she is going to be okay. However, the road to getting there and the events of this week have taken a toll on all of us. The events of this week, both in my own life and in the lives of celebrities and big name people in the world also facing illness and death, have made me really think hard about some things, and question hard some other things. I am more convinced than ever before that things do NOT “happen for a reason,” and that we are all part of some random and beautiful experiment called life, with no idea how or when our ride will end. These thoughts may very well be jumbled and nonsensical, but a series of moments happened this week that made me ponder things at a deeper level.
Last Tuesday morning, my dad, brother and I , drove my mom into St. Elizabeths Hospital to have her hysterectomy. On our way there, a very serious car accident was happening with overturned cars and at least one death, on another nearby highway. When we got to the hospital we found out about the tragedy from the tv in the waiting room. That could have been us. But it wasnt. Do I believe that we are “blessed” in some way, or somehow chosen to not have been involved in that accident? No. I believe that we were lucky.
After mom was taken into surgery, we were hanging out in the cafeteria killing some time, and my dad casually said to my brother and me: “This shouldnt have happened to your mother. She is such a great loving person. She doesnt deserve cancer.” And although of course I agree with him 100% that mom doesnt deserve cancer, I found myself saying out loud: “Nobody deserves cancer.” Because him saying that our mom doesnt deserve cancer, implies that maybe someone else’s mom does. Or something. In the same way that when people have something incredibly lucky happen to them, and they say “we were blessed”, or “God was with us” or “your prayers worked”, does that mean that I was NOT blessed or that God didn’t give a crap about me when my husband died suddenly and tragically? No. I don’t believe that for a second. I think my husband dying had absolutely nothing to do with God or being blessed or not blessed or some grand plan that was pre-set and somehow included him collapsing on a floor at work one morning. I think my husband died because his heart was a walking time-bomb and he had no idea. He died because he had a shitty father who never gave him the time of day or bothered to tell him that heart disease with zero symptoms was in his genes.
So, no, my mom did not deserve cancer, and my husband didnt deserve to die at age 46. But neither did all the other people’s moms or husbands or wives or sisters that are not with us right now. Nobody deserves death or illness. They just happen anyway.
When mom’s surgery was over, her doctor met me, my brother, and my dad to tell us how the surgery went. He walked into the public waiting area, gave us a very serious look, and said in a solemn voice: “Come this way please. Let’s talk in here.” He led us into a small private room, and he closed the door. My heart practically stopped and I think I turned white. Flashes of July 13, 2011, soared into my brain. “Come this way,” they said to me at the ER waiting room after I arrived by taxi to the hospital, not knowing anything except that they “had my husband” for some reason, just an hour after he had left for work that morning. “Please sit down”, they said, right before they said the next thing, which was that he was gone – didnt make it – we did everything we could – massive heart attack.
This story ended differently. The doctor ,after shutting the door and asking us to sit down, answered my dad’s question of “Good or bad?”, with “She did very well. Everything went great.” And then I began to breathe again.
My mom spent the night and the next day in the hospital after her surgery, and she became friends with the woman in the bed next to hers, her roommate. That woman also had a hysterectomy, and had the same doctor doing her surgery as my mom. My mom had uteran cancer, this woman had endometriosis cancer. When we were driving my mom home from the hospital that next morning, she told us this story:
The doctor came into their room, and went over to the roommate first. He sat down next to her bed, and told her simply and matter of factly: “I am sorry to have to tell you this, but you are going to require a lot more treatment. At least 8 weeks of chemo and then radiation, and then, we will have to see after that.” He said that last part with a tone of “It’s not good.” She was in shock and of course, very upset. The doctor then came over to my mom’s side of the room, and my mom felt badly for her new friends news, so she motioned to the doctor to keep it subtle. He whispered to her as he gave the thumbs up: “You did very well. ” My mom said to me later on: “That could have been me that got the awful news, and she could have gotten the good news. Its just so unfair.”
And it is. Its unfair. Its life. Its death. Its random and its unpredictable and its scary. And nobody deserves any of the bad stuff. So we just live, and we love, and we hope like hell that the bad stuff stays away long enough for us to shine and put our dent in the world. Because who the hell knows whats going to happen tomorrow , or even later today. Maybe something amazing. Or something horrific. Maybe you are the one getting the life-altering news that you are not going to get better. Or maybe you are the one who gets to go home with their family that night. Eventually, we will all experience all of the death that is inside of life. I guess we just need to hold on to the life part, with everything inside of us, and keep on hoping that we are one of the lucky ones, even for a little while longer.