2-6 months Richard said….I sat very still. So did Don. We were at his oncologist’s office and after discussing discontinuing treatment I mustered up the courage to ask “I know you don’t have a crystal ball, but if you were to give us your best guess...how long.” Richard paused, he was a very practical doctor, not one to dive into emotions. He was standing across the room, he took a deep breath and quietly said “given the growth of the cancer and where things are at, Don I think you have about 2-6 months."
The room was silent. I was staring straight ahead. I didn’t want to look at Don. I was overwhelmed. “What is he thinking, what does it feel like to hear these words, what do I do, how do I fix this?” I finally looked at him. He was sitting forward, leaning on his knees. His jaw was twitching like it did when he was thinking or stressed. He was staring at Richard, no tears.
Then he surprised me, he cleared his throat and asked “What is it that will take me?” Richard responded “your lungs, the cancer is prolific in the lungs.” Don took a deep breath and whispered “fuck”....it was his worst fear, he did not want to suffocate.
The drive home was surreal, quiet, no tears. I could not stop thinking, wondering what was going on for him having to face his mortality head on. It was here. What was next?
I took a leave of absence from work (how fortunate I could). We planned final trips to the coast. But we were afraid, we did not talk about the end, not really. We skirted the subject, The emotions were so high it was hard. I did not want him to hurt anymore so I ignored stuff that made things harder for me after he was gone. I wish I had the courage to bring more up, to hold the space differently. It would not have taken away the fact he was dying, but it would have helped us (especially me) move toward and through it with more grace. We had a lot of frantic moments as we approached his end. Frantic moments that could have been avoided had we talked about certain things.
I am a professionally trained mediator and coach, I teach people how to communicate. And yet in the rawness of mortality, even I was challenged with the courage and capacity to talk about things. It is not easy in the thick of it. And we didn’t do it early because we thought we had time.
Ahhhhh, the illusion of time.
When I bring up talking about death with friends, many nervously laugh and say “oh we don’t need to worry about that conversation yet, we are in our 50’s.” Don was 56 when he died.
The time to have these conversations is now.. It is not comfortable, that is just the way it is. It can change your relationships. It can deepen your commitment to what is important. It can inform how you live in the present. It can change the way we live, and die. I wish our talks had happened sooner and were deeper. Don't wait, 2-6 months can happen.
If not now, when? And more importantly, if not me, then who?