Posted by: chlost | March 28, 2012

When we are at our end

We don't like people to die.
Image via wikipedia, by Jacob Windham


A colleague of mine was recently diagnosed with cancer. Not one of the “good” ones, she was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Prognosis-not good for recovery. She is 67 years old. She had been considering retirement for the near future, but hadn’t felt ready.

Image via wikipedia

So–what do you say? I struggled to find an appropriate card to send.  “Get well soon” sounded rather inappropriately hopeful. Not ready for a sympathy card yet, but that’s what it felt like….”I sympathize that you have been given such a shitty deal”. I thought the greeting card companies had a card for every situation. Maybe I just missed that section.

In the end, I used a blank note card and just hand wrote a note saying that I was glad that she had lots of family support (she is staying with her daughter) and that her friends are also supportive. I thought about sending flowers, too. I don’t know……they are nice, but a little depressing when they die–a reminder, perhaps–and a plant implies a commitment that some folks just might not be up to assuming at this point.

Why is this such a challenge? We really have not figured out this whole death thing yet as a society. In many ways, I think the pre-modern societies may have handled it better than our current “at all costs” medical attitude. They accepted that death happens to everyone. They had to handle deaths more often than in our western society. Here, many children don’t experience a death in their family until a grandparent dies. In other cultures, a sibling’s, parent’s or friend’s death may be much more common. Perhaps this is just my romanticizing a bygone era. I just wish we as a society were not so overwhelmed by death.

For this colleague, she has decided to try chemotherapy. She is working from home part-time. Her job as a social worker doing custody evaluations and mediation means that she has personal knowledge of people and family situations which would not be easily transferable to another worker. She feels a responsibility to the families to finish her work.

When I hear of others who are dealing with these issues, I always wonder how I would handle a similar situation. I mean this not as to whether I would take any possible treatment option; I question whether I would be one who would finish my files. Would I be graceful during such a time?

The only answer I have is that I hope so. My fear is that I would not.



  1. I ask myself the same thing sometimes…. I just heard that my uncle has cancer. How would I handle such news I I heard it about myself? Will I be prepared? Will I get desperate? Will I I accept it peacefully? I simply don’t know yet…. still working on it.

    • Yes, we can never know unless we are in that position. Thanks for your visit!

  2. This is heartbreaking. My mother cleaned out her closets and some old folders that needed attention – even though it took her weeks to do it she was so weak. I think I would finish my files. No, I know I would.

    • You know, I could see me doing the closets and the drawers. I have so much junk I would want to clear out so that the kids would not have to worry about it. Your mom must have been quite a lady.

  3. So sorry to hear about your colleague. 😦

    A few years ago the man I was working for passed on while fighting cancer. He was doing the chemo thing and determined to maintain as much of his routine as possible so he came to work every day (working from home isn’t an option we have). I think that if he’d just stayed home he would have given up. He needed a reason to keep fighting and he loved his job and the people who worked for him … we were one of his reasons to keep going. I think the same may be true for your friend.

    I don’t know for sure what I’d do if I were in a similar situation, but I like to think I’d do what I love as long as possible … to keep as many reasons to continue fighting around me and not give up. You are a passionate person and you fight daily for those who others have given up on. I suspect you’d finish those files and then some. *hugs*

    • Yes, I can see how doing something would make the time easier than just sitting and “waiting”. The movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman-The Bucket List made sense to me. They started out wanting to do all of these amazing things, then just wanted a real life.I am not so sure about the fighting if it made me very sick just to have a few more hours or days. The quality vs. quantity argument would be very difficult.

  4. If work is what you love by all means continue. If it is just a job, someone will eventually take over anyway. Sadly none of us are irreplacable. I have delt with cancer for 12 years, should I ever be given a time frame, family would be paramount and that bucket list would be seriously worked on. Since my diagnosis years ago, my files are all ready in pretty good order.

    • My family is also the priority for me. But I can see how keeping a “normalcy” to life would also be important. Congratulations on getting through your cancer diagnosis. It is wonderful to know that life can challenge that disease and win.

  5. Just this week I shared a hug with one friend, an email with another, and saddest of all, a note saying I was available for rides to the hospital. Sometimes all you can say is that you care.

    Thanks for being there for her.

    • Yes, it would be important to know that other people care. Especially when there is not much else to say.

  6. I have thought about it a lot and have decided that if I should discover My Time, I would be more concerned about how my early? passing would effect others. I am 72 and in good? health. At my age i don’t think I would opt for a long hard fight. I have had a good life and don’t want to become a burden to my friends and family. I took care of my (bucket list) as I went along. I have had a lot of fun and raised a good bunch of kids. My wife’s health has been bad for years, so I know how hard this can be for others. I have opted for cremation and no funeral, just a memorial. Simple and cheap. Thanks for the insite you have brought to me Les B

  7. I think the handwritten note was absolutely the right choice. The main thing is letting her know you are thinking about her.

    One of my specialty areas is terminal illness and I often thing about how awkward we are about death in our culture. Terrified, even. And yet, it is the one inevitable thing. Even taxes you can sometimes avoid, but not death.

  8. For me the only comforting (I use that word reluctantly) truth about death is that it will apply to everyone equally. I personally find it is easier to accept the death of someone in their later years than younger. Two weeks ago a son of a relative died (mysteriously) at age 35. I am troubled by the very young people who are killed in our ongoing and perpetual state of war.

    It is difficult to find the words to express our feelings because, in essence, we loathe death. We all love life and want it to continue.

    I think as you have done, to express personally your feelings as one individual to another, there is nothing higher that you can do… or more appropriate. It will some day be our turn.

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