It was a very tough summer for me and my family. We’ve faced multiple losses in a very short time and been surrounded by sorrow and grief. The most difficult loss was the death of my brother-in-law. At only 36 years old, he had spent the past 10 years fighting a battle many of us fear – cancer. As a soldier, he was no stranger to fighting, and he approached his illness in much the same way – head on. His end was long and painful, but his will to live never wavered – even when my sister told him it was okay to “let go.” On a ventilator and unable to talk, he firmly shook his head NO.
It was just a matter of time before he was spending his final days in Hospice. I will never forget what his Hospice nurse told us, ” People die the way they live.” This became even more real as we watched my brother-in-law fight for every minute he could have. Unable to move, talk, open his eyes, eat or drink – he continued to fight. He fought to live just one more minute, one more hour, one more day. On July 24th, 2013 his last day, hour and minute arrived…and he was gone.
My brother-in-law’s death has had a profound effect on me and my husband. It puts life in a very different perspective. I think about how much he wanted to live – even when he really had no “life” left. What if I could treat each day so precious? I have a renewed appreciation for my family, my health and my life. My husband decided that dwelling on what you “don’t have” rather than what you have, now seemed trivial and unimportant. He has become more content as a result.
Two months ago today, my brother-in-law left us, and it has taken me this long to be able to write again. I knew I must get these important words down, but my heart wasn’t ready to write them. I can only hope that the lesson we learned from watching his life, and death, will stay with us. If we truly “die the way we live,” then we must ask ourselves every day, how we are living.
Someone I love has cancer.
I don’t know why I have struggled so much to write this, but it has taken me weeks to get the courage to type these words so I can (try) to apologize and explain my very long absence.
I’m not sure what I can say that would entirely explain my disappearance, because I’m not entirely sure myself. Between the illness, stress at work (I have a demanding, full-time career) and a very hectic family life (a gross understatement), I found myself running on empty. I kept going, thinking it would work itself out, but it didn’t. I thought so often that I should be keeping up better, that I was letting people down, that I had to get it together. But I didn’t.
My life had too many “loose ends” and it had all caught up with me. I was feeling overwhelmed and completely exhausted and I knew I had to do something. I kept thinking back to the advice of a friend from years ago. She always said, “My mama says, when your life’s a mess, clean out your closets.” Simple, but excellent advice. I decided I would give it a try. I took some much-needed time off to do just that – clean out “the closets” of my life. I cleaned out the “junk drawer,” painted my laundry room, donated some clothes I hadn’t worn in a while, organized the coat closet, spent a day alone with my husband and played ping-pong with my girls. When I went back to work and realized that I was still tired and I hadn’t quite finished everything I wanted to do, I took some more time off, and I finished.
I feel better now. My focus has started to return and I feel more like “my old self.” So why am I telling you all of this? First to apologize – for disappearing, for letting you down, for letting myself get to this point. But more importantly, to tell everyone out there who is running on empty to stop – stop right now. Stop what you are doing and figure out how to carve out some time, how to tie up the loose ends of your life and clean out your closets. You’ll be glad you did.