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Knowing how to live...


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This was in my newsletter from the Oncology group I use, and I thought it was worth sharing: (Warning - it has the "grownup" word in it, but I'm not the author, so it shouldn't offend anyone.)

Those near death know how to live


Jan 9, 2005 - Record, Northern New Jersey

Author (s): Jane Glenn Haas


Life gives me little jolts - little bits of cancer, uncomfortable recovery from knee-replacement surgery, caregiving for my husband after his skull fracture.

Just enough pain and suffering for me to walk in the sandals of those facing life-ending situations, but not enough to make me stumble. Others are not so fortunate. I spent Christmas with two people who are facing their own mortality. And I must tell you, it was indeed a merry Christmas, for I learned a person can face that grim future without it casting a pall over everyday life.

The secret is to be secure enough to recognize what really matters in life.

And what matters is not your personal pity party.

What counts is family, a continuity of your values, sharing with others and maintaining the important traditions of a lifetime.

My host for the day has advanced melanoma. Because of his chemotherapy, he can no longer taste food. He forces himself to eat. Yet there he was, pouring wine for others and being his usual good- host self.

My hostess has metastasized kidney cancer. Her chemotherapy leaves her nauseated and fatigued. She watched her daughters-in-law set the table and her own daughter cook the Christmas dinner.

"It's OK for us to sit," she said to me. "We've spent our time in the kitchen."

And so I sat with her, nursing my knee, which is still sore from recent surgery.

None of us is old by today's standards of long living. Each of us still works, although my friends admit to slowing down and balancing work days against chemo treatments.

All of us value life. But I realize that my friends are coming to grips with the limits on their lives - a realization we never want to acknowledge.

In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross gave dignity to the dying, defining the stages of the terminally ill as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

I'm not sure where my friends are in this litany of dying. Sometimes, my hostess tells me, she breaks down and cries. My host would never admit to such frailty, but surely he has his own quiet moments of despair.

What strikes me, this Christmas afternoon, is the importance of how we face our finality. In many ways, it is our last gift to our families and to ourselves.

Author and poet Judith Viorst has said that only by learning to relinquish people, places, situations and emotions that concern us at every stage of life, from childhood to old age, can we develop a positive identification and self-image.

Viorst is the author of "Necessary Losses: The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies, and Impossible Expectations that All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow."

Loss is a necessary part of life and essential to growth, she told me a couple of years ago. We were talking, actually, about another of her books, "Imperfect Control: Our Lifelong Struggles with Power and Surrender."

We have a "fantasy of control," she said. "If we do everything right, if we follow the recipe correctly, we will produce a happy, healthy, creative and well-adjusted child, for example. ... And if that doesn't happen, we did something wrong."

More important, says Viorst, is to control our urges to control, to seek a balance between power and surrender.

Dying well, it seems to me, demands we find that balance between power and surrender. My friends are working toward that goal. Along the way, they are giving their children and grandchildren an awareness of how to find joy in everyday living.

None of us can avoid the necessary losses of life.

The challenge is to approach that time of loss like a grown-up.

* * *

Jane Glenn Haas is the author of "Time of Your Life: Why Almost Everything Gets Better After Fifty." Write to her at The Orange County Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711, or send e- mail to jghaas@aol.com, or through her Web site, womansage.com.

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