Thoughts from the dying about living

Louise shares her thoughts

What brought you to Sunnybrook?

I have a tumour in my abdomen that has now spread to my lungs. It’s a rare, aggressive form of cancer.

You seem very matter of fact about it.

I am pretty matter of fact. I think I knew in emergency that there was something seriously wrong. You can’t do anything about it, so you have to accept it. It’s not easy, but you have to accept it.

How do you find being in the palliative care unit?

I’m happy to be here, there’s a lot of compassion.

How are you feeling now?

Touch wood, I haven’t had pain yet. So I’m lucky, so far. I don’t know what to expect, I haven’t asked. That part of it I really don’t want to know until it hits and I have to deal with it.

Do you have family?

I have a sister, and my mom lives with me, she’s 92 years old. My mom is very stubborn, she will not go into a home, so that’s a tough one for me because I don’t know what’s going to happen to her because of her mobility issues.

Is she aware of your stage of life?

I don’t think she’s in denial, but I don’t think she’s fully accepted it yet. I kind of feel like I’m deserting her, even though it’s not my fault. I’ve been her caregiver for so long, so that’s tough.

Is it hard to talk to people about dying?

It is hard, because my sister is really sensitive. If I start talking to my mom about it, my sister starts crying. Everybody deals with it differently. I can talk about it, and I don’t think I’m doing that in the third person, I’ve just accepted it, and that makes a difference.

How do you get to that place of acceptance?

I don’t know because I have a negative side to me. I guess I’ve always expected bad news, and thought I wouldn’t even live to age 21. I don’t know where that came from, but I hit 70, so what the hell!

Do you have any regrets?

I actually worked until past retirement. In fact, I was working until about three months ago. I was going to do a bit of travelling, so you kind of go, I should have done that differently. So I have regrets there. I don’t have a great bucket list, I never did, but figured I would get five to ten years of nice retirement, so [my situation] kind of threw me for a loop.

So you wish you had travelled and done those things earlier?

Yes, especially when you have your health. Don’t put it off until you’re older. My mom was a child of the depression, so everything was save, save, save. But if you only save, save, save, you don’t live to enjoy it. So it’s a balance.

Did you have a good life?

I don’t think I did because I put everything off and put my mom first, which is good, bad, indifferent, I don’t know. I’m kind of sad I didn’t have my own family. I was never married, so kind of feel like I missed out on that. I mean, your parents are your family, but your own family is your own family.

Does it help when people come to visit?

It’s nice, but then if there’s too many, it can get tiring.

People often don’t know what to do or what to say.

I think, I’ve been there myself and it’s terrible. It’s nice to see people, but it’s hard when they stay too long because you do get tired quickly. But it’s nice that people have the guts to come, because a lot of people can’t. When I was younger, even the smell of the hospital would make me pass out. I guess the change comes with age.

When you have visitors, do you want to talk about your illness or other things?

They don’t want to talk about it, so all I’m getting is ‘wishing you a speedy recovery’. Well, that’s not going to happen, but I guess they don’t know what to say or write.

Do you often feel like it falls on your shoulders to make everyone else feel better?

Sometimes, but I’ve got a pretty warped sense of humour, so that helps a lot.

Do you have thoughts on what happens next?

No. I’ve never been religious, and I think it has a lot to do with what I see going on in the world. The unfairness of life.

What’s your advice to other people for living well?

Just be yourself!

Why did you want to speak with me today?

I guess just to get my thoughts and feelings out there. That I’m still part of the universe. We all are, for a while.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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