June 14th, 2009: Several months ago, I referenced in this blog one of my favorite personal truths: Coming Out Never Stops. Then, it was about facing having cancer. Now that has shifted to coming out as a person who is terminally ill. I’ve found myself doing that over the past few days. I never know when it’s going to happen, or when it will feel appropriate.
I went in to have my teeth cleaned last Thursday. I have been going to this dentist practice for the past 22 years. Seems that it was time for new X-rays, and I thought, “What for? My teeth feel OK. I’m not going to live long enough to need advanced dental work.” Then I reconsidered; if I have a tooth emergency (not that this has ever happened), it would be good to have recent scans. So I agreed to the X-rays. As they were being administered, I thought, “This is the last time my teeth will be X-rayed.” Such a tiny detail, but an example of a mind set that is increasingly asserting itself in me. I am starting to anticipate and remark on the end of things in this world for me in this life. I have to say, it’s pretty gentle most of the time. Not having any more X-rays did not unleash a wave of grief. However, when it came time to talk to Dr. Gregory about my future dental needs, I came out to him as a person who’s terminally ill. He was shocked and very gracious. We cried and thanked each other for taking such good care of each other. In a good doctor/patient relationship, caretaking goes both ways. When he asked if this was goodbye, I considered and said, “No, I will need to have my teeth cleaned in four months. See you in October. Which will probably happen.
I have been struggling with and giving in to the exhaustion that cancels much of my time these days. I’ve always had a good energy level and often my only question was: “Can I get to the next place fast enough?” Not so anymore. Yesterday, Saturday, I got up at around 9:30 after a sleep of some 10 hours. By eleven in the morning, I was back on my bed, ready for a nap, which lasted until 2:30. Then, I got up for most of the afternoon and evening.
I have never experienced anything like this fatigue. I lie prone without moving. No need to move. If I’m awake, I may have slow threads of thoughts, but they are of secondary interest and seldom urgent. My mind is in the background. There is no pain. It’s rather like a paralysis, but without anxiety. Since this can take up most of a day but without providing a deep, fulfilling rest, I am concerned. I also let it happen. This need for rest is so overwhelming, that I can’t imagine fighting it. Instead I occassionally fight it afterward when I regret the time lost.
From habit, I spend a great deal of time trying to normalize my circumstances. I still eat meals at the same time. Put on my socks. Brush my teeth. Go into work. Read the NY-er, etc. I still do all those things, but inside my body where I can scarcely feel it, there is a huge battle going on. I can’t appreciate how overwhelming this struggle is, but I am starting to feel the long-range depletions of the fight. Sleeping or lying on my bed in a dormant state for half the day is a sign that I am exhausted. Exhausted just from being alive. That seems so hard to believe after a lifetime of zipping around.
I want to thank everyone for responding to my request that you ask for my treasures that you enjoy. People have responded in such different ways! There’s the obvious response where someone says, “I’d like to have the prayer rug in your living room.” Other people have said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” To which I say, “OK for now. But I would like you to have some thing of mine as a memory.” It can be a slippery road to navigate. Just as many people don’t make wills in the mistaken belief that they won’t die, so asking for one of my objects won’t cause me to die. I will die, but not from giving away my things.
Along these lines, my therapist made the observation that I was a lucky guy to be able to give away the things I’d accumulated. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Well,” she answered, some people would be in the position of having to sell their things to raise money.” I’d never thought of that. So I am a lucky guy, that I can make this decision to give away my worldly goods without a thought to their cost or value. I have loved them, and I trust that you will also.