Sunday, May 17, 2009

Here Comes Debbie Downer

I have been a bit down the last 24 hours and still feel like I have no energy. After a substantial boost to my mood from talking to my mostly bedridden friend on Friday evening, I found myself struggling to push away fatigue and darkness yesterday. Maybe it's a rebound effect. Maybe it is the almost June gloom--the constant state of overcast we get here near the beach in So. Cal due to the marine layer in late May and June each year. In any event I am thinking about death a lot lately. And as every other generation has faced as they grew older, I am looking at the death of people my age instead of my parents' generation.

A dear friend from high school sent me two obituaries this week of people we knew from high school. One was the slightly older brother of a boy who dated one of my friends in high school. I remember this man mostly as a football player in high school. Although he was my high school boyfriend's age, he was not in my boyfriend's circle of friends. The other obituary was for a woman who graduated with me from my all girls' high school. Unfortunately I cannot place who this woman was and I no longer have my high school yearbook handy. My friend promises to scan the picture from the yearbook to see if I can remember this classmate. There were only 108 girls in my graduating class so I am sure I knew her but I just cannot remember her right now. Before death comes the loss of memory.

I think a lot about my two friends who have aggressive cancer. Both are women in their early 50s and both are struggling with massive doses of chemo. As I mentioned above, one of these friends is no longer ambulatory. To cheer me up, my husband likes to describe in gruesome detail the last days of his father's fight with cancer-- the pain, the immobility, the deterioration. Oh joy. And I am supposed to be the Debbie Downer. As I talked to my friend on Friday evening, in the midst of the discussion of the chemo and the pain and the tumors, and through the fogginess of her massive doses of painkillers, I also experienced the person she has always been notwithstanding this terrible disease-- a mother who delights in her relationship with her daughter, a brilliant Harvard graduate who still enjoys a discussion about politics, a friend who wants to shield me and her other friends from the pain she is enduring, a funny, life loving person with wonderful quirks whom I love dearly. I have told her I love her more in recent months than I have in the 20 years of our friendship. And, as George Vaillant has concluded based on his years of research with the Grant study I do indeed feel more vulnerable expressing that love because I do not know how I will deal with the loss of this wonderful person in my life.

So maybe it is not just June gloom. Maybe it is my life at this stage of living. And loss is part of life so best to appreciate what we have in the here and now. That's why I will continue to express my love to those I do love.

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