Tuesday, July 9, 2019

MY BAD – Taking the Rap for Hope

The last month or so here has been laden with what seems like more than its share of death and dying. I’ve lost a former hospice patient and dear friend (He “graduated” from the program five years ago.) and a member of my 40-years-and-running men’s group. Another, current hospice patient is fading. And my long-time shrink has cancer.

What if the outcome I pray for is different from that being invoked by the patient?

When someone—especially a loved one—is facing a scary diagnosis, naturally I want to do something. I guess we all do.

So, besides the usual nuts-and-bolts support—visiting, offering respite to the care-givers, perhaps dropping off a nice pie or casserole, I put my fondest wishes for the person out there into the Universe to assimilate and perhaps factor into its next rendering of The Big Picture.

In other words, I pray. But for what, exactly? Do I pray for the dying person’s ability to gracefully let go of life and pass away in peace and comfort? Or do I pray for them to beat the odds, kick cancer’s ass and get back to a normal life? It’s a real dilemma. And what if the outcome I’m praying for is different from that being invoked by the patient?

Well, for the hospice patients I volunteer with, the answer’s usually easy. Typically, they’ve lived good, long lives, suffer any number of discomforts and indignities, and in many cases are quite ready to die. It’s when the patient’s younger— chronologically and/or in their attitude—that I’m conflicted.

Right now I’m channeling all the positive energy I can marshal into the prospects of the man who’s been my “behavioral health” counselor (I’ll call him Bob). For the past five-plus years Bob’s been the only person in my life whose time I’ve felt I could commandeer to just sit there and listen to my personal problems. He’s helped me cope and hope and grow into a better man.

A couple of months ago, the day after my last appointment with him, Bob had a sudden seizure. Next day, they operated on his brain and confirmed the worst: glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer. He was admitted to hospice.

Maybe it’s not typical of such patient-provider relationships, but I love Bob. Though I’m sure any reciprocity on his part has been unintentional, let’s say we’ve come to know each other pretty well. He’s a kind, gentle, compassionate man.

And now, though I want desperately to see him and help him as a friend and supporter, a veil of confidentiality imposed by his employer separates me not just from offering that help, but from even the most basic information about his condition or whereabouts.

So, for Bob, it’s come down to praying. But I’m facing that give-up or give-‘em-hell dilemma. What if what I’m praying for isn’t what he’s praying for? What if he’s decided to commit himself fully to dying with grace?

          I picture every single cancer cell in
          his body as turning a bright, Day-Glo
          red, no longer able to hide.


I thought about it for several days, simply wishing him peace and comfort. And then it hit me. So what if I wish for a recovery he can no longer envision? Could that be any worse than cheering for an athlete who’s resigned to losing a race, or for that matter any underdog who doesn’t believe they can beat the odds?

So I’ve taken part of my daily meditation—the one visualizing my own body as healthy and pain free—and turned that biofeedback toward Bob. Maybe I’ll call it tele-biofeedback.

I picture every single cancer cell in his body as turning a bright, Day-Glo red, no longer able to hide from his body’s natural defenses and the search-and-destroy raids of chemo drugs. I see all those pinpoints of red getting zapped, darkening to burgundy, then dark gray, and finally blowing away as so much lifeless ash.

There’s a chance I’ll never, ever know what happens to Bob. But whatever it is, at least I’ll know I did my best by him. I think that’s what I would want from my friends and loved ones. Cheer for me even if I cannot cheer for myself. Even if it turned out to be an outcome I couldn’t have, I think I’d forgive them for their misplaced hope. Wouldn’t you?

And Bob? What if he just happens to end up among the five percent of patients who survive this cancer…do you think he’ll blame me?


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