Saturday, March 14, 2015

Die perfectly? Probably not.

Unique situations in life often become clear only afterwards, with hindsight reflection. What about death? Death is unique in the standard sense of being a "one off" -- an event a person only experiences once in their lives. It's also unique in a temporal sense of a "first time", perhaps something like losing one's virginity. There's a third uniqueness, unlike the other two: death's exclusion of subsequent reflection by the party it acts upon. People don't apparently receive a later opportunity to put their death event into perspective, to grow from it, etc. In this regard, death occupies its own subset within unique events. Intellectually, we understand this limitation before the event, but how do we decide what to do with this information? Suppose that death turns-out to be a journey afterwards so that, lacking prior knowledge, we aren't adequately prepared for the subsequent trip? What if we unwittingly hurt someone on the way out and would normally later, once realized, make an amends (but obviously can not after death)? These are frightening prospects. So, how can we die more perfectly or, perhaps, what is the most perfect way to die, as we understand it?

As my cancerous decline proceeds, who knows if I'll keep pace with its changes intellectually or emotionally1. It's been my experience that everyone is compromised at the end -- why should I expect to be different? I am probably going to make several mistakes, and will have no opportunity for amends, or even realizing them, which I would have done with reflection, when alive. My first thought is, "My sincere apologies right now for anything I'm not going to do well and might have done much better. I hope I don't step on anyone's toes."

A second element. In my life, unless I'm confident of dealing with a situation well, I search my memory for solutions to similar prior scenarios. In the case of impending death, I only have external examples, but I do have the opportunity to consider what's important to me while it's still an early process2. Currently, I have a lifetime's accumulated reservoir of no cancer and the feeling that death only happens to others. It's only been 6 days since I learned of my prognosis. Taken together, cancer currently has almost zero subjective power today.

So, from this still-healthy place, I should probably ask myself the question, "What have I, in the past, cared to hear from dying people?", for this is the only stuff I should bother propagating out into the healthy world (a world I will deeply miss) while I decline. The candid answer is, "not much" or, "what did I ever care what dying people said or thought?". But not entirely. There have been things here and there. For example, I recall that I valued my dying paternal grandmother's honest assessments of me, and of her assessments of the highlights and lowlights of her life; she had ultimate perspective at that point. Unfortunately, I don't have the relationship of a grandmother to the world, but I might be able to put something out there which helps.

New realizations are bound to come when, for example, they're draining me in a wheelchair and I'm too confused by physiological damage and metabolic inconsistency to think clearly, etc. But those ironies will be irrelevant to 99% of the people out there. It seems best to chart a course of relating to the world that is made during my current experience of health, and stick with that course going forward.

Hopefully I can add to this in the next two weeks before radiation and give myself guidelines for the best chance to to stay a contributor to the healthy world. After that, I suppose my attention will begin to be overtaken by timelines and physical realities.

PS: Hey God, please stop the cancer. Thanks.

1Whether I care about that later, we'll see.
2The only symptoms so far are cold-like. My immune system which, to anthropomorphize, has been a world class tactical team throughout my healthy life, has made early (of course!) enemy contact; mild night sweats are their telegraphs to me they've been fighting a fight for me. I've repaid their lifetime of good work by introducing them to a foe they cannot possible beat, and which they will fight to the death trying to save me from. How terrible. I've loved you, immune guys!

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