I was fifty-four, strapped on a gurney being wheeled into the operating room. As I waited for the staff to get the gurney in place, I said to myself, “This may be IT. Is that OK?” I decided that I had crammed all the living I could each day of my life and if I don’t survive the surgery it was OK.
Not only was it OK, it turned out the surgery was not “IT.” In the ensuing days after my surgery I reconsidered what I wanted to do in the lifetime that I had left. I remembered that as a ten year old I had read a book of my mother’s titled Magic Spades. Each chapter told stories of archeology, and among the chapters was the tale of the Palace of Knossos on the Island of Crete. The book included photos of murals that were just as pristine as when they were painted more that two thousand years previously. I had determined I would see those murals. So after fifty weekly injections of chemotherapy, and all that that entailed, I said to my second husband, Bob, “This summer I am going to Greece to see the murals at Knossos. I would love to have you come, but whether you do or don’t come, I am going.”
My Big Teddy Bear growled, “That would not be my first choice of where to go, but when you put it that way, I’ll come.”
A few days later I opened the conversation again. “If you do come, you have to have a good time.” “Oh, yes,” he assured me, “if I come I’ll have a good time.”
We did go, and we had a marvelous summer.
It was July of 1984, and I had just retired from twenty-seven years of teaching. One thing I had missed was seeing daughter Holly more often, so I phoned. She said she was going to a seminar on stress management at the local hospital that night, and invited me to join her. I met her for dinner and she took me to the lecture.
The psychiatrist handed out papers for us to fill out while he talked. At the finish of his program he asked for questions.
“What’s with this paper you asked us to fill out?”
“Oh, yes. You score each answer from one to four according to your lifestyle, add up all the answers, and divide by twenty-five. The questionnaire assesses the level of stress in your lives and the end score denotes your life expectancy.” I was astounded and horrified. Holly had scored to live until she was sixty-seven, and I had scored to live to one hundred and three. It had never occurred to me I would outlive any of my children.
When I turned eighty I was healthy, and my doctor told me to expect another twenty years with good quality of life. That startled me, so although I laughed at my CPA when he suggested he could help me prepare for my “old age” I decided I needed to take him up on that. What I came to realize is that death will come when it comes, and in the meantime it’s important to be prepared to live for Life with its changes and opportunities. L’Chaim!
During my cancer surgery and the following year of chemotherapy I came to totally accept the reality of my personal death. I knew that I wanted to become part of the ocean and the creatures that inhabit it. I told my children that if they were to hear I had fallen overboard from a boat, I wanted them to feel that they need not be distressed about that; that was my desire, and it would not have been an accident.