Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mom and I talk about death

Yesterday morning, after I had fixed Mom up with her new leg dressing and her clothes, we lay on the bed in her bedroom and talked. We were waiting for Dad to be finished with the medical guy who had come over to give him a physical exam for insurance purposes. As I mentioned yesterday, my conversation with Mom was fairly directed: I asked questions and Mom provided answers; she volunteered little by herself.

One part of the exchange went something like this:

KEVIN: Mom, do you know what the problem in your head is?

MOM: Do you know? [Mom sometimes echoes a question instead of answering it.]

KEVIN: No, do you know? Do you know what the doctors took out of your head?

MOM: Some kind of cancer problem.

KEVIN: That's right. (long pause, then in Korean) Are you afraid? Are you afraid of dying?

MOM: No, I'm not afraid at all.

KEVIN (back to English): Good. When I die, I don't want to be buried.

MOM: Really?

KEVIN: No; I want to be cremated.

MOM (nodding): Oh.

KEVIN: I want my ashes scattered somewhere. Maybe the ocean, or in the Han River-- OK, maybe not the Han River. It's pretty dirty. But maybe a pretty Korean beach. How about you?

MOM: Yeah, I want something like that. Some pretty place.

KEVIN: You don't want to be buried?

MOM: No.

I had wanted to ask Mom outright whether she realized what chances she had of dying from this disease.* I didn't think of that question in time, but it's an important one; it would have provided me some idea of whether death held any immediacy for her.

What I did learn during our brief exchange was something I already knew: Mom isn't afraid of death, and she wants to be cremated. I had already intuited the first conviction based on Mom's attitude toward life, and my parents and I had discussed the second matter long ago, before this current mess began.

I'm glad that, at least in the abstract, Mom has her bags packed, so to speak. Having this reaffirmed yesterday was comforting, albeit in a strange way, and also made me unspeakably proud of my mother. The relentless forward march of time forces us all to face toward the Great Door, no matter how we try to avert our eyes. The door sits always at the horizon of our vision and cannot be blinked away. A life lived in conscious affirmation of our eventual destiny is, I think, a richer and fuller one than a life lived heedlessly in an attempt to deny the inevitable. I hope Mom's quiet lack of fear about her own mortality can be an example to others who dread the prospect of their own demise. To live mindfully in the moment is to see everything around you, and that includes the Great Door. Step through or be dragged through.

*The chances of dying from glioblastoma multiforme, or from infectious problems related to the treatment of GBM, are nearly 100% by the time we reach the "five years post-diagnosis" mark. The only ways not to die from the tumor would be to live long enough to die of old age, to succumb to something totally unrelated to either GBM or infection, or to perish in an accident or some other unfortunate circumstance.


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