Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Gift of Dying Slowly

Today I watched my grandson eat dinner. I’m not sure whether he got more food on him, or in him. At nearly one year old he had yogurt spread all over his face, his hands covered with the remnants of everything else he was served, and drool running down his face as he gnawed on the baby spoon he had been using more as an instrument of destruction than as an eating utensil. It was delightful.  As I sat there and watched him eat and my son try not to be the victim of the
collateral damage of flying food I thought what a gift it is to be dying slowly.

I have neuroendocrine carcinoid tumors, originating in the pancreas. These are slow growing but terminal tumors. It is a relatively rare disease effecting a very small number of people, comparatively, each year. You know this type of cancer because it is the kind that took the lives of Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s restaurants, and Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computers. My doctors don’t really know how long my metastasized tumors have been growing, but they think for a few years at least. They also don’t know how fast they are growing and can only guess at how long I have left. With treatment I hope to able to remain active and working for a couple of more years before my life becomes more severely limited, but I’m okay with that because I
think it is a gift to die slowly.

So many times I’ve seen situations where someone dies suddenly and the ripping of that precious life from their family and friends tears the seams of their souls. Things are left unsaid. Relationships are never mended. Scars grow deeper with grief. Dying suddenly is traumatic, and devastating, and leaves in its wake so many things left undone. At least I have a little time.

Dying slowly, on the other hand provides me with the gift of time. Oh, its not much time, but I think it may be just enough time. It reminds me to focus, with intention and passion, on the things that really matter, like watching small children smear dinner in their hair. It makes me seek out opportunities to tell stories, laugh at the past and the present. It calls me to reevaluate my life’s goals and objectives. It helps me be more demonstrative with my affection toward those I care about most.  Dying slowly is a gift because it reminds me that I have time to laugh, time to live, and time to love.

I have time to laugh. I love to laugh, and I have a big laugh. If you hear me laughing, you would know it’s me, and I love to laugh. I love to sit around a loaded dinner table and hear stories of people’s lives and discover what formed them and transformed them. I love to hear stories of their disastrous first dates, and stories of their first real love. I like to tell stories, sometimes enhanced for the benefit of the listener, and hear others laugh. Dying slowly has given me the gift of making sure that I have time to laugh. One of my daughter’s friends, who is much loved by our family, talked about what it was like to have dinner with us after my diagnosis. She said the way we made sarcastic jokes about cancer and dying was a little awkward at first, but soon she realized that she could jump right in and laugh with us. That if you laugh at something you take away its power to overwhelm you. Maybe that is why I laugh at life so often, so it doesn’t overwhelm me. I know that’s why I laugh at death and cancer so often, because I refuse to give into the dark shadows that linger on the edges and try to steal my joy and rob me of laughter. I pray that I laugh up until the day I die. I am going to laugh as much as I can until I am laughing in the presence of Jesus. I want to laugh as much as I can, as long as I can. Do you?

Dying slowly is a gift because it reminds me that I still have time to live. We get so busy living that we forget we are all dying. Some of us are just dying more quickly than others. We forget to go on vacation, or to enjoy the moment, or to just have ice cream. One of the amazing things that has happened since I’ve discovered that I’m dying is that I have become even more passionate about living. I think my passion for life has inspired some others to help me live as passionately as I can for as long as I can. I have had people I don’t know send me gifts and offer me opportunities to check some things off my bucket list that would have never occurred had I not been dying. You know what? I’m actually going to receive those gifts with thanksgiving. Gifts I would have never accepted before because as somebody who has tried to live his whole life with an open heart, with open hands, and with an open home I know what a blessing it is to bless others. I know in my life my biggest blessings have come from what I have given away, not what I have received so I want them to have that kind of life blessing as well! I have some time to live and I want to live it up for as much time as I have left. Don’t you?

Dying slowly is a gift because it reminds me that I still have time to love. I have taken to reminding everyone I encounter to “love deeply.” If anything this whole dying thing has caused me to be more open with my expressions of affection with people I might otherwise have never told. I am a man, you know, and we aren’t all that good at expressing affection sometimes. Especially to other dudes, but what the heck, I’m dying. So I tell my “dude” friends that I love them because I want them to know that they are special to me. I tell my friends I love them. I tell my kids I love them. I tell my wife a hundred times a day that I love her, because it seems to me that I need to give out about forty years of love in about four or five years. I want the people around me to feel my love for them in whole new ways. While I am still able to share it, I want to live with arms wide open and share my heart with as many people as I can. You see I can love because I have been loved. I am loved by friends and family. I am loved so much by my wife that it seems some days I can barely contain it, more than I deserve. My greatest desire is to return that love. Most of all I am loved by a Savior whose stripes and scars have made a way for my healing and allows me to be freed from my own sin, situations, and scars and to show love like he showed love.

Dying slowly is a gift. My gift may be opened sooner than yours but I want to remind you of something. You are dying slowly as well. Don’t wait until you find yourself suddenly approaching the end of your life to laugh, live, and love. Do it now. Do it today. Go to dinner with friends, or make new ones, and laugh. Bungee jump, or learn to surf, or do whatever it is that you’ve not done that will remind you to live. But most of all, love. Love deeply. Take the chance to live your life with open arms and give away as much love as you can because love is the one thing that the more you give, the more that comes flooding back to you.

Gracious God, forgive me for being so busy with life that I forget to live. Help me to receive the gift of dying slowly that I might spend my days laughing, living, and loving. In the name of the one who gave us the gift of life, and life eternal, Jesus, I pray. Amen


Unknown said...

I love your description of dying slowly put into words of wisdom to love, live, and laugh:) I feel the same way. I was diagnosed with Stage 3b Malignant Melanoma and will be celebrating my 2nd year of living since my diagnosis on 11/21/11. I have a strong faith as well and often say that "everyday is a gift that's why they call it the present" not sure who coined this phrase? I will be promoting your blog as well on my Facebook page called The Cancer SPOT for raising melanoma awareness, inspiring, and humoring my fellow cancer warriors and caregivers worldwide:) I will continue to read your blog and pray for you and yours daily. I live in Pa. May I ask where you are from? Fellow Cancer Warrior, Donna

Unknown said...

You are an amazing person. My father had melanoma and I always tried to look at it as a journey, a hard journey for us all and one that we would not have chosen but I was so honored to have been able to travel it with him, ,my mom and my sister. I often look at it as a blessing that he wasn't taken from us suddenly because we were able to say our "I love you" many times and let him know we were going to take care of my mom and his dog Buster :-). I hope your journey is as special for you and your family as my fathers. May God bless you and your family and thank you for sharing your journey... Michelle

Claude Kayler said...

Marty, I had no idea. I came to this blog entry because I saw the link on Facebook -- shared by Andy Lambert. When I saw the title, I didn't realize it was about YOU. This morning at Covenant Community, I shared some of what you have written, and we prayed for you and Danelle and your family. There are a lot of folks at CC who are new since you were with us, but a good many remember you. The writing you have done about this diagnosis is amazing, inspiring, and honestly, brave. Thank you. --Claude