As I write this my friend has just left the doctor’s office and returned to her part-time home in our community. She has learned in the last few moments that her cancer has recurred and is rapidly growing in her abdomen. For the next two days she will be packing up her belongings and loading the car for a long road-trip back home, where she will have to tell her family her shocking news: she is expected to live for just a few more months.
The calendar slips from her hands, along with her plans for the rest of the year: a college reunion during the summer, an autumn trip to Europe, a journal article she planned to write, a research project she intended to complete …
Everything has changed now. She moves slowly through the mundane motions of this day, in dazed confusion: folding the laundry, organizing the grocery list, sweeping the floor … But wait, does it matter? Does any of this matter?
She sorts through the belongings in her home, one-by-one: a book (I’ve read this three times), a teapot (My mother-in-law gave this to me), an old sweater (I got this on our trip to Alaska), and photographs … so many photographs. Each item surveyed and analyzed. Do these things really matter?
She is talking too quickly now, her mind jumping from subject to subject, trying to avoid the looming, inevitable reality that will overshadow and consume everything in its path over the next few weeks. Her conversation seems almost nonsensical to me as I struggle to grasp what is going through her mind at this moment.
She is all alone now. She has entered a place where her family and friends, no matter how close they are, cannot go. As a hospice physician I have walked this path with many patients in the past. And though the scenery has varied with each person, I have noticed certain landmarks throughout each journey.
I cannot change my friend’s path or take away her suffering. I can only wait with her and watch and pray. For these coming days I shall look through her eyes and feel through her heart, observing life and all its oddities; noticing, while looking back from the perspective of death, what of this life really matters?