Death Be Not Proud
May 23, 2010 § 9 Comments
In the midst of life we are in death. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
(Book of Common Prayer, The Burial of the Dead, First Anthem.)
Death leaves a wound that never quite heals. You can stitch it up, you can cover it with a bandaid, but it’s somehow always fresh, torn open by a sound, an image, a smell, a thought…a memory. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some people may let the wound fester and never clean it and end up with a stinking pus-filled sore, but you can also accept that the wound will always be a part of you, and occassionaly fondly remember the body part that was once there and is now no more.
A year ago today, my sister lost one of her best friends, Esther, to cancer. They had been classmates all through high school, and then went on to medical school together and four of these best friends decided to move in together. I don’t know if you’ve ever lived with someone who you didn’t HAVE to live with (i.e. family)? It’s not easy. You have to adjust to someone else’s habits, you have to learn to be accommodating, you have to be accepting. I don’t know how they did it, but they all lived quite happily together. First year medical school is high stress. Then you go on to second year where not all the subjects you take are examinable that year, and you suddenly have a lot of free time on your hands. So my sister couldn’t understand why, despite all the time they had to just chill, Esther was still missing quite a number of classes. The thing is, she never told anyone she was feeling unwell and my sister chalked it up to laziness (she told me later how guilty she felt about that). Esther only finally admitted to being unwell when the physical manifestations of it couldn’t be ignored any more (her stomach had swollen and she looked pregnant), and even then, getting her to agree to a doctor’s appointment was a battle. The doctor told her it was a cyst and would have to be removed in surgery, and since there didn’t seem to be any real rush, her parents told her to wait until she was done with her exams. When she finally went for the surgery, they found it was cancer, so they removed what they could but ‘didn’t get all of it’.
I remember no one even told me it was cancer. I mean, I knew she was sick, but it was only when my mum let slip that Esther was going for chemo did it hit me how serious this all was.
Now the thing with cancer is it’s not just like you’re here today, gone tomorrow. No. It lays waste to your body until you become a skeleton of what you once were. It tests your faith in humanity, and your faith in God. It gives you hope, and then yanks it away from you again so suddenly that you’re left stunned. Esther was in and out of hospital, and at one point things were looking much better. The cancer had apparently shrunk and they were going to operate to remove the remaining bits. When they opened her up again, they discovered that nah, it had actually spread, and oh yay, we have to perform a hysterectomy on this 20 year old girl who loves kids. There were trips to South Africa, and trials of new drugs (“We heard that this worked for someone-we-know’s someone’s someone”), and an endless number of other hardships. And it was rough, to say the least.
Esther’s parents live in another country altogether, and though they would try to come down as much as possible, they couldn’t exactly just up and leave their jobs when they have so many children to support (six? seven?), all except one being in university, and a hospital bill that could make you weep. And so my sister and 3 others became her family. They were the ones who were let in the hospital at odd hours, the ones who slept in a chair through the night so that she wouldn’t be alone, the ones she asked for when she was so sick that she couldn’t talk, couldn’t move, couldn’t bare to be seen. And they sat with her, laughed with her, held her, texted her jokes at random hours, brought her music, threw her a birthday party in the hospital, and most of all, loved her.
I learned a lot from Esther, my sister and her friends. I learned what friendship means, I learned about selflessness, I learned to always ALWAYS fully appreciate the moments of joy you have in life regardless of how fleeting they are. This girl underwent the worst possible torture I can imagine, and still was the most positive person. I’m not saying she didn’t have her dark moments of anger, despair, desolation, but she remained a light in the lives of those around her.
On the 23rd of May 2009, Esther passed on. My sister saw her the day before, and Esther held on until her mother arrived (she was flying back home) before she finally let go. Even during her last hours, she was still selfless enough to give her mother a final gift of seeing her alive one last time.
I write this in tribute of Esther. It may not mean much to anyone, but she’ll always be a saint. Because this is written anonymously, it’s not meant to provide comfort to anyone, I’m simply honouring her memory. And she deserves to be honoured.
And I write this in tribute of my sister who, regardless of how we may not address emotions while together, will always be my role model, and my living breathing guardian angel. And the fact that she regards herself as the farthest thing from that, only makes me love her more.
And though I never mentioned his role in all this, I write this in tribute of my father. The greatest man I’ve ever known and will ever have the honour of knowing. To go into everything he did for Esther, her parents and my sister would take more time than I have. But I acknowledge that I have the greatest family, and I would give my life for any one of them. Any time. I’m blessed 🙂
Death is never easy, even when it’s inevitable. I can only hope there’s an after-life. There has to be a point to all this, right? After all, dying is the day worth living for (never thought I’d one day quote The Pirates of the Caribbean!), right?
We’re all going to die. So regardless of how cliché this may sound, get out there and LIVE!! I fully intend to.
One short sleep past, we wake eternally, and Death shall be sitting in the kitchen in his underwear at three in the morning, doing last week’s crossword puzzle (The Time Traveler’s Wife)
I read this once in one of the newspapers, and I figured I’d share it because it makes so much sense to me:
Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways – glass of wine in one hand, chocolate in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, “WOO HOO, what a ride!”
Or as Michelle put it so eloquently when talking about Chris after he died (if you don’t know what I’m referring to, please be ashamed of yourself and find a way to watch Skins – the first generation. It’s poetry and magic on screen): “He said, ‘Fuck it, I’ll do it my way and the people that love me will understand why I’m doing it because they love me. Fuck it’.”
Death, be not proud, you stupid motherfucker.