Last night, tired of winter’s grayness, I looked through some gardening catalogs and tentatively circled some plants I’d like for my garden plot this summer. Today, the catalogs sat at the edge of the couch, mocking my misplaced optimism. The entire time I’d been selecting the flowers, the question nagged me, “Will I be here to plant or enjoy them?” Everything in my life seems like it’s punctuated with a question mark. Except for one thing, but it’s the certainty that faces all of us.
Yesterday, I had been feeling a little bit better than Thursday, and I got some work done and cleaned up the apartment, but this morning, I felt even worse. I’ve spent hours napping. I feel like the doctors are running out of options. If this chemo doesn’t work—and it doesn’t seem like it is—then what? They keep trying things, and things keep not working.
A few months ago, I was planning what workout classes to take on ClassPass or places to check out for a possible vacation with my mom and some friends. Today I made a morose list—it’s something we should all do, I’m told, but it’s taken on more urgency—of things to wrap up, what to do just in case these tumors can’t be controlled. Nothing needs to be settled tomorrow and I assume I have more time, but I think I might have less time than I initially thought. I spent non-napping time thinking about the practical and impractical aspects of mortality.
I don’t have a lot of assets and have successfully avoided a lot of adult responsibilities, so I just have a few important things on my list and then a bunch of random concerns. I don’t want my social media lurking after I’m gone, haunting the internet with birthday reminders, so I have to pass along my social media passwords. I don’t want my posts floating around in the internet ether. I’m oddly surprised by how alive people are until they’re not. I know that doesn’t make any sense. But I had expected death from disease to be a slow evaporation, like I am lost molecule by molecule, until one day I’m just no longer around.
When I came home from the hospital, my stand-alone wardrobe had been reorganized a little bit, prompting me to engage in a manic closet-cleaning project to help my clothes find loving homes and to try to make some money. This clothes-selling thing is a whole other social network with its own wants and needs, however, and I don’t have the time to devote to it. I waffle between disappointment that the few things I managed to put up aren’t selling and relief that I don’t have to part with my beloved clothes and accessories, even though most of my days are spent in sweatpants, diapers and pajamas these days. Also, I don’t want really to get rid of anything. All my clothes bring me joy, and I regret every piece of clothing I’ve parted with. But that’s a whole other post I have yet to write. So I have one more password to pass along, to close the doors of my virtual closet.
As for my garden, I have a few perennials, and when gardeners move, they can leave plants up for grabs. Only a few hostas are sentimental—one is a descendant from my old yard in Ohio.
The cats will be OK. I like having relatively independent pets; that’s why I have cats. In taking stock of my life, I’ve had to come to terms with not having children—something I was never sure I wanted but also something I had thought, for a long time, would be a definite possibility—and at least I don’t leave children behind. Something about Ziggy, the two-and-a-half-year-old cat, always has broken my heart. He’s so needy. I feel bad enough leaving him behind. I look into his big Keane-painting eyes and worry that he won’t know that I had no choice about leaving him. That’s hard enough. And he’s a cat.
I’m relatively at peace with my life, but there’s the realization that the world will go on without you. A long time ago, I went to a talk about nostalgia and the speaker provided examples of how people throughout history have always thought they lived in the end times, in some part to avoid facing their mortality and ultimate insignificance. (Of course, environmentally we might actually be toward the end, but then when I Googled for a news story for a hyperlink, a lot of global warming conspiracy stories came up from “sources” like Breitbart and “American Thinker” came up. I feel simultaneously worse and then better about leaving this world behind.)
What haunts me are all the trivial loose ends, like my books-to-read pile. I keep thinking of the last episode of 30 Rock, which I haven’t even seen since it aired in 2013; it’s just a scene I’ve read about and haunts me. When Liz Lemon thinks Jack Donaghy is about to commit suicide, she pleads, “There’s so much to live for! Don’t you want to know how Mad Men ends?” What if I never find out who sits on the Iron Throne?
What if this, today, with my roiling insides, is the best I feel? I’m just not sure what else I can be doing if I don’t have the energy. It has been exactly five years since I found out I have cancer. Since then, I feel like I’ve adequately seized the times I’ve felt well. I’ve had a good life. It’s abbreviated, not yet over. Am I preparing or am I skipping ahead to the end too soon?