Living and dying are the same concept
by Cathy Speck
Someone recently said to me, “I don’t see a dying person, I see a person living fully.” What she saw/felt/feels is exactly what “dying” is all about — for me. Living with ALS (for about three years now — most people live three to five years upon diagnosis) has taught me that living and dying are the same concept.
The moment we’re born, we start to die. But it is not negative, sad, morbid, morose, vanilla or Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. When we “understand” that we’re dying, we realize that we can choose to live each moment as fully as we want.
If I’m in a traffic jam, oh well, I can’t do a darn thing about it, and this gives me more “visiting time” with whomever is driving with me. Or we can listen to our favorite CD, or read bumper stickers out loud, or make words or acronyms from license plates. Getting pissed off at traffic (then being late) only makes the experience more stressful; then we spend precious energy being mad about something we cannot change.
Each moment, we can choose how to respond or feel about anything that’s happening near/with/to/for us. Did someone just flip me off? That’s okay by me — it’s their problem, and I’m glad I don’t have to let my life be bothered by their actions. When I’m feeling really strong, and if I have time, I also reach into my core, breathe deeply and wish for that person to heal. No, I’m no angel, and this might sound too “something-ish,” and I certainly can’t maintain this attitude all the time. It is however, my intention is to think/feel/behave this way.
I’ve been an activist/advocate most of my life, even in elementary school (but that’s another story). My anger fueled me to get out there and make things happen, git ‘er done, be the change. And anger also kept me alive at times when depression was simmering and infiltrating my being. It’s easier to feel mad than sad.
I’m now learning how to be an activist/advocate without using anger as fuel, or purpose, or as a tool. I accept that life ain’t fair; nobody ever said it was. But I believe that I can still make a difference or “be the change” by using positive energy, thoughts and words. For example, I know this might seem hokie, but what the hell: My family and friends have asked me to write my own obituary, and that’s great, because I was planning to do that anyway. So far, I’ve written obituaries for my two older brothers and one of my older sisters. I also wrote one for a Davis Co-op co-worker. I guess I’d better get crackin’ on that, because each night when I put my mask on, Linda and I both know it only takes a couple minutes for something to go wrong, and then… I’m gone.
You know how most obituaries say something like “Patty died after a courageous battle with breast cancer.” Well, no, most obituaries aren’t for someone named Patty who had breast cancer. I’m referring to the language: “courageous battle.” It just seems to me that the meaning behind those words has been so diluted, there’s no substance. It’s kinda like people saying, “Hi how are you.” “Oh, I’m dead, but I really did put up a good fight. Those stinking chemo treatments really put a dent in my schedule.”
Wow, I lost my train of thought, so I followed the crumbs back to find the original seed.
I was talking about “making a difference through thought and words.” In my obituary, I will not write “She died after battling ALS with courage and fought and beat it with billy clubs or guns and knives, and mean faces and swear words.” Nope, I don’t yet know exactly what it’ll say (especially the date) but it’ll be something like “She died with ALS”… No, I don’t like that one. Ummm… “She died of ALS, the same disease that took her mother Dorothy and brothers Paul and Larry.” (I can’t add my sister Susan because that was never determined.)
Or I might say, “Cathy had ALS for over three years and died on Tuesday, June 19. Blah, blah, words, names. All are invited to Cathy’s Re-birth Party.” Or should it be “Re-birthday Party?” Whaddya think?
I already know what I’m gonna do with the ashes, and my best friend’s brother-in-law is making my urn that I helped design. It looks kinda like a pyramid, but made of cedar wood, and the felt inside will be royal blue.
Ashes will be available for people to take home as “party favors.” I bought a whole bunch of the pastel plastic Easter eggs that open up when you twist them in the middle. I’ll have some ashes in something like a punch bowl on a table, so those who wish to take some of me home can scoop a bit of ashes into their egg, and then do what they want. Eggs are obviously symbolic of… omelets, which I love. Ha! Yeah, the symbolism is all there. It’s gonna be a grand party, and we’ll all have a gay ole’ time.