Some moments just stick with you. A moment not out of the ordinary in my realm, but it’s provided some reflection on where life and this piece of shit brain tumor has brought us.
At a Patient Family Advisor Council meeting last week at Emory we were progressing through introductions when a profound dialogue occurred. There was a time, years ago, when this dialogue would’ve been eye-opening and surprising. Yet, those years are long gone and the past three have done well to adjust my perspective and what’s normal.
Two men were sitting next to one another who had not met. One with stage 4 lung cancer who described himself as “actively dying” and the other with a heart condition who had died on the table and had been brought back.
The gentleman who had been brought back commented on how easy dying was and how hard coming back to life was. He elaborated that it was all you hear about. Peaceful, white light, calm and painless. The gentleman with stage 4 lung cancer next to him raised his head. With glassy eyes he looked over and said, “Thank you for sharing, this is good to know. I appreciate you sharing this.”
Nothing about it was awkward, yet it was so profound. As one man unknowingly provided assurance and serenity to another who so clearly needed to hear what was being shared; I couldn’t help but to reflect.
It occurred to me how entirely safe the environment was for having the dialogue. No one was going to interject that “he’d be fine”; or tell them to “not talk about dying and be positive”; there was no commentary on how “promising new research could alter his diagnosis”… It was honest. It was authentic. We all knew and understood the reality and we respected it. While each of us at the meeting are on different journeys with different perspectives, we share an understanding in the importance of these exchanges.
People always ask how my life has changed since my diagnosis and what people can learn from that. They are often quick to interject the obvious that “You must spend more time appreciating everyday and everything.” I always think, “Duh!” and then say, “Yes, but it’s more complicated than that.”
Putting aside the context of death and dying, the dialogue last week did justice to simplify the complexity. These two men succinctly, through principles of authenticity, honesty and valuing experiences for what they are and appreciating the journey along the way, summed up how our lives have changed and what can be learned from that change.
It was powerful. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.