Within days of our return, he would be hospitalized and would remain that way through July.
I used to blame his insistence on taking the Charleston trip for his death, since he put off radiation treatment so that we could go. But, you know what? As far as options go, all of Mike's options sucked. And at least we got 4 days of warm sunshine, delicious food, horse-drawn carriage rides... and we even signed up for a time share while we were there (I should have known he wasn't quite in his right mind).
I rarely revisit the dirty details of the hell that was Oct 2005 - July 2006. I recorded some of it in this blog. I also wrote a book-length manuscript which some publishers were interested in, provided I was willing to go back and make some changes. I wasn't. Once it was written, I couldn't even bring myself to open the document. But today, for some reason - curiosity, i guess - I went back to the part of the manuscript about that Charleston trip.
Sure enough, I had forgotten most of it. The brain is a brilliant creature. If you leave a memory untouched - if you choose to not access it - it's like it was never there, like it never even happened.
But, I'm starting to wonder if, instead of seeing this trip as a harbinger of the dreadful things to come, I should think of it as Mike exercising his right to live - and die - the way he wanted.
Let's face it: If Mike had survived this, he would never be the same. Not only would he not be able to do the things he loved (improv, design, cooking), he would never be able to live unassisted. He would be blind and would need constant medical care. He would require massive amounts of medication: massive steroids, testosterone supplements, as well as synthetic forms of EVERY hormone and chemical that is governed by the pituitary gland. He would suffer from electrolyte imbalances, would continue to have lapses in short-term memory, and would likely need to live in a nursing home.
I know I've written this dozens of times over the last 8 years, but, I need to remind myself: Mike would have wanted to die rather than live through that - and he would have wanted to die rather than putting all his friends and loved ones through that.
A few days ago, I was listening to a rebroadcast of Terri Gross' interview with Sherwin Nuland, the author of "How we Die." Nuland is one of the fathers of the hospice and palliative care movement. He confessed the guilt he had about urging his cancer-stricken brother to try an excruciating new cancer treatment - one that was unlikely to work - but at least would give his brother a "chance". His brother died anyway, and Nuland regrets that by his own urging, his brother spent his last months going through this awful treatment, instead of just being with his family and dying in peace. Through this experience, he gained clarity and perspective on what it means to die with dignity. Nuland writes:
One of the points I try to make in this book - and I make it a number of times and a number of different ways - is that what gives dignity to death is the dignity of the life that preceded it. When we have brought about a situation where we are loved and we love, where our lives have been lives - not necessarily of great accomplishment, but of a sense of having given something to others - whether those others are as close to us as our children or parents or whether those others are as far away as a radio or a television audience. When we have done that, our deaths have dignity. Our deaths become a part of our lives in the sense that with our deaths we give something to those who are left behind as we have given our lives to them.
So, in addition to all the joy that Mike brought to people through his friendship, his improv talents, and his infectious laughter, in the spirit of Nuland's quote, the dignity of Mike's life was also enhanced but the way he chose to live in those last months. By insisting on taking this trip, Mike may have hastened his death, but that, in and of itself, might have been the best possible outcome.
- Describe your ideal vacation.
- Looking ahead to the next year, how many trips do you think you’ll take?
- What kinds of trips do you see yourself doing?
- What about the next five years?
- What was your favorite vacation destination thus far?