I have been holding on to this post for quite some time (I keep forgetting to post it, chemo brain-much?). A couple of my friends had offered to write posts for the blog offering advice about how not to murder your friend with cancer (dark humor gets us by sometimes). Christine’s post is probably more befitting of where my brain has been more recently. My friend Kaz also wrote a past post called Support is About Showing Up.
Remembering and Forgetting and Remembering to Remember
By Christine McDonough
Of all the things in all the world, one of the worst is to have someone you love diagnosed with a terminal illness. Nothing you can do to stop it. Nothing you can do to fix it. You just have to take it on the chin with a stab to the heart. And that reality can scare everyone, eclipse everything else about your relationship, eclipse everything, until it turns into the only thing you focus on.
But there are so many other things to remember. And you need to remember to remember. For starters, your loved one is still the same person. Maybe a more frightened version; possibly a more enlightened version; sometimes a more selfless person, and sometimes are more selfish version – sometimes all in the same day. But still the same person. Don’t lose the Person among the Versions, and don’t lose Her to the Disease. She’s a person still – one with complex emotions on an extremely complicated roller coaster.
Another thing to remember – your loved one is still alive when they’re alive. Death is coming, yes. But does that mean you have to give up and say, oh dear, death is inevitable, so naturally the there isn’t any ambition anymore? Avoid the mistake of presuming your loved one can’t expand, can’t grow, can’t change, can’t become something new if they want to. If you miss this point, you might not encourage that growth and expansion, and you will lose out on knowing an even more wonderful person than the one you knew before. Everyone deserves that, whatever the circumstances. You are not in charge of your loved one’s steering wheel, their gas pedal, or their brakes. Instead you get to encourage them from the passenger seat. Or even from the bleachers. And when they need to put on the brakes, you get to congratulate them for driving over that obstacle course of potholes.
So many things to remember.
But don’t forget the forgetting. There are times when you need to forget everything – yourself, and forget completely. It’s not about you. Your time might be chaotic, but your loved one knows their time is limited. So it’s really not about you.
Find a way to be in the moment. Forget that the moment will be gone. You’ll miss every single memorable moment if you are distracted by the knowledge that the moment will end. I know it feels like a circular argument. But if you’re in a moment, turn off your brain and be in the moment. Hug and laugh and cry.
Stop thinking. Forget. But when such a moment has passed, make the memory solid. It seems silly, but look around and name your surroundings. Drinks around the fire pit. Expensive champagne and a broken champagne flute. Giggles. Exceptional Twerking. Coloring books and cat eye makeup. Group hugs and group tears in fuzzy, footie pajamas. These are the small things that matter, small memories that are part of the story you shared, part of the history you’re sharing.
Death is a scary thing. You need to remember this sometimes; and other times you really need to forget. Your loved one is scared right now? Show some comfort. Your loved one wants to watch a basketball game? Watch the damn basketball game. Remember to take a cue; forget about the unimportant stuff. Through everything – the happy times, sad times, scary times, uncomfortable times – the most important thing is to let your loved one know one thing:
You will always remember to remember.