A Journey to Accepting Life on Life’s Terms

By Dorothy Tibbetts 

(This piece was written 2 months before my friend died.)

My friend, who up to 4 weeks ago appeared to be the picture of good health, has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

At first she went to the doctor for back pain and they could find no cause. The following week she went back because she seemed to have many of the symptoms of acid reflux. An endoscopy revealed a tumor in her stomach and esophagus.

The following week a CAT scan showed cancer in her lymph nodes, liver, stomach, and esophagus.

A part of me wants to wail “How can this be? Why is this happening?” I recognize these as being endless loop questions which do not serve me or my relationship with her.

When I accept that this is life on life’s terms, I am then forced to accept the challenge of dealing with all the feelings that come up for me. It’s much easier to be angry, bitchy, and irritable than to be present to the feelings of sadness, loss, grief, fear, and vulnerability, along with the myriad of stuffed feelings from other times in my life.

My rational self tells me this shouldn’t be about me. This should be about my friend and what she will be facing.

Fortunately there’s an inner voice that is telling me that if I want to be there for her in healthy, supportive ways, I must acknowledge these feelings so that they don’t get in the way of our relationship.  

How can I tell her it’s OK to cry if I don’t allow myself to shed some tears? How can I listen to her say she wants to put her affairs in order and plan her funeral service so she doesn’t burden her husband or children with those things?  This is not the time to let my personal feelings get in the way of being fully present to her need to talk or discuss these subjects.

In the past when confronted with similar situations, I have tended to shut down.  I used a lot of excuses about not knowing what to say. Then I would limit my contact.

Today I am not willing to hide behind excuses. I want to be the friend she can say anything to.  In order to be that kind of friend it is important to take care of myself emotionally and physically while all of this is going on.  Being there for her is better supported this way.

So each time I think of her I will send up a prayer for her and ask God to be with her. This is far better than compulsively worrying with no action as I’ve done in the past.  It is clear that I have no control over her disease or her pain.  I do have control over my attitude and how I show up when we talk.