“How are you feeling?” The question was more than a standard greeting; I was talking to a friend who’s in the last stages of a three-year battle with a fatal disease.
Her answer was stilted, as her speech had been affected by either the disease or the treatment a year or two ago. “I ... feel ... wonderful!” The last word came out in a rush, the exclamation point evident in her delivery even over the phone.
That she can go from days when she wonders “Is this it?” to “Wonderful!” in the same week astounds me. Her determination to control her own medications and treatment, her surroundings and her attitude are as courageous as any act I’ve witnessed.
We had a good chat in the visit that resulted from the phone call. She confided that things were changing fast; she realized that in spite of her many rebounds over the past few years, it wouldn’t happen this time. She’s talked to those of her children who are willing to hear and has made her peace.
She will stay off heavy painkillers as long as she can, because once you start taking them, in her words, “you just drift away. You’re not YOU any more.”
In the meantime, she is still teaching her early-20s son how to cook, him chopping and sautéing in the kitchen, her calling out orders from her full-time bed in the living room, and examining things with a critical eye (only one, the second now being covered with a patch because the tumour has caused double vision in it) when he brings the pot or pan in for her inspection.
“Fold … the … pastry … over … more,” and she’ll try to do it herself with swollen and splitting fingers.
Or, “That’s done,” with a nod of approval.
On a good day, she’ll entertain visitors like me and other friends until she’s forced to take the relatively mild
painkillers she’s allowing herself. We’ll bring things for her kitchen – because her mind is still the excellent cook she’s always been – and we’ll talk.
Another good day, she and a friend might drive to the beach and eat lunch in the car with the windows open. She can’t get out and walk along the sand or on the grass, and the short outing will exhaust her, but she can breathe in fresh air, smell the sea and watch other people playing or strolling in the park.
And it will make her feel wonderful.
It makes me think that we need to re-examine our personal requirements for wonderful, and figure out what really are the wonders in our lives.