I just learned that a woman I know at church–older than me but definitely not elderly–just lost her husband to kidney cancer. I’m told this is the second husband she lost to cancer. Gack. I can’t imagine losing a husband twice to the same ailment. Or losing a husband twice before we’re old enough to really grow old together. It just reminds me of how my mom told me that because I’d been widowed once, I wouldn’t lose a husband again so young. This is proof of the ridiculousness of such a statement–no one can assume the length of anyone’s mortality. My mom also says to me that my family is from “good stock” which somehow means that we are impervious to early death. I know she was just trying to comfort me. It’s just believing these kind of statements gets yourself in some serious trouble. I think that’s part of the reason I suffered so badly when Mike died–on some level I really believed I was immortal in some way. Blame it on youth.
I had sent a card to this woman about a month ago, after her husband’s surgery. I’m on a mailing list with my church through our Ministry of Caring where I get all the latest prayer requests and calls for celebration and, if I feel compelled to do so, I can send cards. It’s my way of contributing to the church right now–about all I have the time and energy to do. I usually just send cards to people I’ve met personally since there is one girl at the church who sends cards that come from the church “officially.” I had seriously thought he’d pull through this, but maybe that is how I lie to myself–I assume the best all the time, even when presented with all the facts. Part of me wants to believe in the impossible story: the man so close to death that he can see the Grim Reaper standing in the corner of his room waiting to take him, who fights hard and miraculously recovers against all odds. That’s part of why I love Lance Armstrong so much–the Grim Reaper was breathing down his neck and yet he survived at impossible odds. I think a part of me sometimes thinks my husband gave up easily, that he could have fought against his fate too. And I get mad when I think like this. Did he not love me enough to fight to live?
Throughout his book It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, Armstrong says that he doesn’t know why he lived and others don’t, that simply some do and some don’t and it makes no sense. Which is a great, sobering view of life that I think someone who has faced death realizes. There is no pattern in this chaos, at least not one that a mere mortal can discern. Some people live, some people don’t. It’s a crazy lottery you don’t want to win.
Kidney cancer, I guess, is particularly aggressive. This man was only diagnosed a month or so ago. And now he’s gone. Yesterday at church, the minister had announced a prayer/thought request for him because he was having problems with the remaining kidney. I remember thinking, “Oh no…” That’s it. Just the sinking feeling of despair for someone I barely know, for the man I made the potential warrior against Death. I said a prayer for both of them–husband and wife–for what it’s worth, though I’ve pretty much just written prayers off as that thing you do for yourself and others more than an actual hope that some divine power is going to intervene and change things because, as you know, it seldom does. It doesn’t matter how hard you pray or ask for a different outcome, things will unfold as they will unfold. I guess you just hope to send positive energy to those who are left in the wake of the grief.
As a widow or widower, I think it’s very hard to not become affected by the similar plight of those around you. You remember an aspect of what it felt like to be in that position, even though everyone’s grief is different, and you know that on some level you understand them in a way you wish you didn’t. And to lose a husband twice… ugh… I’ve always said that if I had to go through what I went through with Mike again, I wouldn’t make it out the second time. In reality, I probably would–I have such a goddamned survival instinct–but I can’t imagine having to do this all over again. It’s unrealistic, I know, since we all eventually die. But I guess I just hoped that I would die first next time (I half-joke about adding this to my wedding vows often). Or I guess I had hoped that I’d handle it better if it happened when I was 80 years old as opposed to 26, 36, 46, 56… I guess we all lie to ourselves to some extent.
My heart goes out to this woman in my church, with whom I’ve only had a few scattered conversations and shared a few chortled remarks. I guess that’s all I can say. I’m feeling inspired to make a donation to the Livestrong Foundation or the American Cancer Society in this man’s name.