I’ve been thinking about my mom lately. It’s almost the 4th anniversary of the day we lost her and I always think about her a lot in the days preceding. Ok, who am I kidding? I think about her every day. Every single day.
But the anniversary of her death reminds me less of my mom and more mom’s illness. The diagnosis and the call from my father. Those six months of chemo and radiation. The end time (even though we didn’t know it was the end time) where her face took on the bleakness of cancer and she began to give her things away.
I am reminded of that initial visit with the oncologist in Columbus who hailed from the Dominican Republic and asked her if she “was ready for a FOT.” Ready for a whaaa? We all in the room–my father, me, my sister, my husband, and my mom–stared at each other blankly. A “FOT?” Huh? Then we realized as a group what he was saying, our first response to chuckle at us not understanding his accent, our second, more painful response an indrawn breath at what it actually meant. A “FIGHT.” Are you ready for a fight?
He probably thought we were a bunch of imbeciles for giggling at his quietly delivered and most serious question. But we laughed instead of cried. At least then. (Maybe that’s not as stupid as one would think.)
So he asked her if she was ready for a fight. He did not say: “Listen, Mrs. Angelcyk. You have terminal lung cancer. Stage 4. You can either try to use what medical technology we have to hold on as long as possible… or we can make you comfortable and you can go on living your life. Either way, you probably have only months to live.”
When she was told about her cancer, she wasn’t told she was dying by the time they’d found it. That the cancer had already metastasized to her spine and that she had a black mark on her door for death, who had already come knocking.
She wasn’t given the choice. She didn’t know she had a choice. She thought she was in for a fight, and that she had a fair chance of winning. Let’s say Doctor Dominican had said, “Listen, you have six months to live. Focus on living every moment. Do the things you’ve always wanted to do. Time is short for you.” Would she have taken that last trip to Europe reserved for “when she got better”? Would she have told people what they really meant to her? Would she have told people off? Would she have given away her stuff, or sold her house? Would she have called her brothers just to say hi? Would she have hugged her kids and grandkids more? Would she have done what she always did but with more peace and more gratitude? Would she have written her life story?
In the past, I’ve focused too much on my dead mother and her death. This time, I’m focusing on her life. If she knew she only had a matter of months to live–let’s say six months–how would she have spent her time differently? If I knew I only had six months to live, how would I change what I’m doing now?
I would move to a warm place, full of sunshine. From there, I would travel to as many places as I had time to see. I would be more honest (and less ‘appropriate’) and tell people both when they’ve hurt my feelings and when they’ve lifted me up. I’d always say what I really thought. I’d write every day. I’d read every day. I’d express myself more clearly and trust myself more fully. I’d embrace my spirituality–my connection to the divine–with a gusto I’ve never thought was a priority before. I would savor every moment. I’d see colors more brightly, hear birdsong more discernibly. Food would be ambrosia and water would be pure exhilaration. I’d love more fully the beauty in the world and the people around me and myself. I would absolutely believe in a better place after death because I would be headed there. I would recognize divine inspiration. I would recognize that love forms every molecule of the Universe. Every moment would pulse with truth and significance. Every second would be precious. I would take nothing for granted. Not one blessed thing. I wouldn’t focus on surviving. I’d focus on thriving.
My mom’s death taught me about life. It taught me that I want to focus on LIFE, on LIVING. Not the medical details of blood pulsing and heart beating that end when our body is done with this world. No, instead, I’m focusing on the flow of God through my soul. On my essence. On the eternal part of me that doesn’t worry about the illusions of time or this world or this society.
If I knew I only had six months to live, I would live. I would live–ecstatically, honestly, simply, powerfully, celestially–LIVE.