Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ordinary Days

About a month ago, I heard that a woman I knew in grad school had died at the age of 47. She had been dealing with metastatic breast cancer for most of the past decade. When she was diagnosed the first time, we were still in communication and I was aware that she had been treated and thought it was behind her. A few years later, she was diagnosed with the same thing again. By this time life had taken us in different directions, so while I knew somehow that she had a recurrence, I did not know that this time the whole thing was much worse and that the treatment would turn into one thing after another for years as the cancer spread. When I heard that she had died, I went to the blog she had been keeping and clicked randomly on some posts. It was strange reading it when I knew how it all turned out and that made some of the entries sad to read, because they sounded so hopeful. At the same time, I could see what a great help the blog was and will be for other people in similar situations and I was glad that such a valuable resource exists.

One post that particularly struck me was one dated about 6 weeks before her death, in which my former colleague announced that she had decided to no longer receive treatments. This was a reversal for her, it seemed, because she had been trying to stay alive as long as possible to be with her 11-year-old son, but she finally had started to accept that she was losing a good deal of her quality of life in exchange for a few more weeks of existence. She chose quality over quantity and said that while she felt "kinda sad," she also felt positive. And then she seemed to express some excitement at the prospect of cleaning up the clutter in her room and doing some work. It struck me that all this woman wanted was an ordinary day again. Here she was in the process of accepting her imminent death and the possibility of being strong enough and feeling well enough to clean her room and do some work was truly joyful to her. I have thought about this a lot since. I am just a homebody by nature, so I always am happiest puttering around at home, wherever that happens to be. When we were on our big trip a few years ago, our tent was home and that was moved every few days to a new patch of grass, but I still relished the days I could "stay home" at the campsite and read or stitch. Reading that blog post though, made me really stop to consider how we tend to take ordinary days at home for granted or we fill up our days so much that a kind of frantic activity becomes our definition of an "ordinary day." I kind of don't notice these quiet days until my life gets busy and they are taken away from me. Then when I have one, I notice and appreciate it. I try to set up my life so that I am not busy and always running around--been there, done that. What if I didn't have the choice, though? So now I try to appreciate my ordinary days doing ordinary things in a conscious way and to be grateful for each of them.

Deanna seemed to be at peace when she died and I am glad for that. I am also glad that she decided to start her blog, which will help so many people, whether they are ill or not.

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