Questions of Life and Death…But No Answers

Here I am a week later still struggling with issues of life and death. It’s been a week since I euthanized my dog, Olympia. I still feel the loss…no furry face to greet me each day. I’ve struggled with the decision my family and I made. Now there are other issues with which I must deal.

I learned last night that a friend’s mother-in-law is on her death bed after more than two years of living with lung cancer that had also metastasized to her spine. She was given less than a year to live. She tried every medical option available to her, including anything experimental treatments that showed promise and alternative therapies. For most of those two years, her quality of life was quite good.

I also learned yesterday that my own father-in-law, who is struggling with the same medical condition – lung cancer that metastasized to his spine, won’t eat, doesn’t look well and does not feel great. He was diagnosed in early fall and given up to two years to live. He has had a back surgery, a radiation treatment and is taking a drug to keep the cancer’s growth at bay. It has been only four months, and I don’t know that I could say with any sort of confidence that he will live the kind of life my friend’s mother-in-law lived for that long.

What’s the difference? I think it is obvious – one wanted to live and the other does not. One was willing to go to any length to improve the quality of her life while managing her disease. She only stopped fighting when she saw the therapies had stopped working. The other has not even been willing to take supplements to help boost his immune system and strength, nor is he willing to make himself eat even though he knows it is necessary.

Now, my dog didn’t know any better. She didn’t feel good, so she didn’t eat. My father-in-law, however, is an intelligent man. He could make himself eat so he would be stronger to fight the cancer.

Maybe he doesn’t want to fight. The dog knew something was wrong, but she didn’t know how to help herself. Maybe she, on some level, knew what she had was incurable – which it was. My father-in-law has an incurable disease as well, yet it can be kept at bay. He could have a good quality of life…I’ve seen this to be true in the stories my friend has told me about her mother-in-law.

To be fair, I should say that I know each situation and each person is different. Maybe my father-in-law’s condition is worse in some way. We won’t know that for a day or two. He goes to the doctor on Monday. The tumors had shrunken from the radiation treatment; maybe they have begun to grow again. We don’t know.

Yet, I wonder…What makes one person fight and another not fight a disease? Does one have more to live for? I can’t say. I do know my father-in-law no longer can play golf or go fishing. I’m not sure if he plays bridge… These are the things he enjoys in life. Maybe he has nothing to live for.

Or maybe, like my dog, he knows the time is close and doesn’t want to push death away. Why do some people cling to life anyway for every moment they can while others simply resign themselves to the inevitable? Maybe one is simply not afraid of death while the other is. Maybe one would rather try to really live a bit longer while the other feels that life was good and now it’s over. I don’t know.

I do know that I believe that we are temporary residents on this earth. By that I mean, that none of us will stay her forever. We are not eternal. Yet, I believe our souls are eternal. We are simply renters in these bodies. When our lease is up, we move out. We don’t die – our souls, that is – but simply move on, probably to agree to a different lease on a new body.

As my family found out with the passing of our dog last Saturday, knowing this, believing this does not mean that we don’t still miss the physical form of the one who has terminated their lease on their physical body. We feel the loss of that physical form that was enlivened with the soul – the essence of the person – for a long time after they have moved elsewhere. This knowledge makes it no easier to cope with the loss of a loved one.

When my father-in-law gets to the place of my friend’s mother-in-law – in a coma simply waiting for the end – we will not have the choice we did with the dog – to courageously (or cowardly) put the animal and ourselves out of our misery, to stop her suffering and our own. We will only be able to watch and wait and anticipate the pain of the person being gone from our physical world.

Maybe we will be able to let him go with love…not clinging for our own sake to his life. Maybe we will be able to feel his soul leave and go to a higher place. I have a friend who experiences death that way and sees it as a beautiful experience. Yet…she missed her mother terribly when she recently died.

So…I can only hope we all find solace in these difficult life and death situations. I have no good advice, no words of wisdom. I remain feeling very introspective, somewhat sad, knowing that death is a fact of life with which we are forced to deal, cope, accept…

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