Sunday, January 08, 2006

A letter upon dying

I received the following note by postal mail yesterday. It was sent by a woman I was close friends with all through graduate school and with whom I shared an apartment my last two years there. We knew the ups and downs of the other, our plans, our loves of that time. She was the first to meet the date who turned out, after graduate school, to be my first husband.

A few years back, her sister died after a long struggle with ovarian cancer. Since it ran in her family, P had her ovaries removed as a precaution, under the advice of her physician. Ironically, not too long after, she developed another form of cancer in the same family of cancers. A cancer, doctors told her, with the same odds as ovarian. Chemo and other treatments would buy her time, just as it did her sister, but that was the best they could offer, short of the chance that she might be one of the few lucky ones.

I'm sharing the note, knowing that her direct presence in my life is far enough in my past now that her privacy is assured. I'm sharing it because I thought this note didn't affect me, but I woke up in the middle of the night in tears, unable to go back to sleep until far into the morning. I couldn't get my mind off her letter. I couldn't forget those days of innocence when we felt we were invulnerable, that things such as pain, suffering and dying were so far away as to not consider them.

I'm glad we can't see our futures.

The note (she knows of my own struggles with CFIDS):

Dear Pris
As one warrier to another, ill health is the pitts. I admire how you hang in there in spite of many difficulties in your path. In Buddhism, you'd be considered a Bodi'sava(mispelled)-a being who is so compassionate that she seeks liberation and enlightment for herself and all beings. There just must be a higher purpose for all of your suffering. To think otherwise would be unbearable.

For my end, the chemo is a slow drag that ends in fatigue and nausea. My cancer marker is gradually increasing, which means that the chemo is no longer working. When the CA125 reaches a certain point, they'll switch me to a new chemo. All in all, I hope for another couple of years to live. In the meantime, I'm trying to organize my financial affairs, clean out the closest, and do some writing as time and energy permit. I need to get my spiritual life in order. I've felt alienated from God and in a spirtual strugge for the last several years.

Anyway, 2006 is another year and an even-numbered one at that. Six seems like a good number! Let's hope for the best.

With Warm Wishes

Ironically, while death has 'come out of the closet', for the most part, I still find that discussions about illness still make many people uncomfortable. Since I've been ill with CFIDS, I find myself still embarrassed when I say that it's been a very rough time. I know it's not what many people want to hear, based on the cheery replies back from healthy friends or acquaintances, giving me all sorts of remedies that they feel sure will cure me or announcing that if only I use my mind I can heal myself. Ages ago, Bernie Segal wrote that he had finally realized that the meditation techniques he taught helped with a person's quality of life far more than they 'cured' their cancers. I've found that it's the rare person who's not experienced some form of illness that I can talk to honestly and with no shame or stigma attached for no longer being able to be the person I once was. Rather, it's people like my friend or other friends who deal with strong issues, who have learned to listen. Listen without judgment or the need to play God.

(Art by Chagall)


mouse said...

Dearest Pris,

For you I let this thought of mine fall to the written word.

We are rays of sunshine,
allowed to dance upon this earth for a time.

All the same our roots run very deep, and I know that you cherish yours.

Pris said...'ve touched me to the heart, dear soul.

Geoff Sanderson said...

Pris, I like the idea of you as a Bhodisatva - one who has denied herself the chance of Nirvana in order to stay in the flesh and help others find a way to get off the Wheel of Becoming and into the world of pure spirit. With your constant struggle to maintain your creativity, you are an example to us all. As one who has lived for three-quarters of a century without any serious illness, or experiencing any tragedy in his life, I can't begin to imagine how you achieve what you do (though I try hard.) Love G.

Pris said...

Bhodisatva? I like that idea, too, but...ohhh for not too long. The wheel is getting weary. And you DO understand, g. I always appreciate your friendship.

Michael Parker said...

I too think of you as the Bhodisatva, Pris. Thank you for your caring soul. You've bouyed me up many times this year. I hope I can take the poignant message of this post and become a better friend and listener.

Pris said...

You ARE a good friend and listener. I know I can count on you. We both know times haven't been the easiest in your life, either. While I don't know what life lessons ultimately lead us to, it doesn't really matter as long as we learn them. I know that in these now sixteen years I've learned a lot about compassion that I thought I already knew before.

gingerivers said...


Thank you for sharing this, it offers a lot of hope for those who suffer. May sunshine and warmth surround you.

Ellen M Johns said...

As a nurse Pris, I always assumed that compassion came naturally...I was wrong.
In my experience, there are two kinds of compassion. The "verbal" kind and the "active" kind.
I would like to be remembered as a deliverer of the latter kind.

Pris said...


and ellen, you're so right. and indeed, you ARE the later kind!

gingerivers said...

Also Pris, if there's ever anything I can do to help, please let me know. I'm not a nurse (kudos to Ellen) but I care.

Pris said...

hi ginger
thanks again. if you can find a cure for CFIDS that would be a big help:-)