A few years ago, a television commercial caught my attention. In it, a man and a woman were sitting on the sofa watching TV. The man started to cough. The woman was annoyed because she could not hear the TV over the man’s cough, so she grabbed the remote control and increased the volume. The louder he coughed, the higher she cranked up the volume.
“How convenient it would be if we had a remote that could drown out my cough,” Jim joked the first we saw that commercial. But neither louder volume nor medicine could stop Jim’s cough. It was somehow connected to his having brain cancer, and there was not much we could do about it.
We kept a large supply of cough drops on hand, and I monitored what Jim was coughing up, but the cough was persistent.
The commercial did, however, give me a visual representation of how some people seemed to be dealing with Jim’s cancer.
“Don’t say the ‘C’ word in front of Jim,” someone told me soon after Jim was diagnosed. Someone else told me not to say “tumor,” as if not saying cancer or tumor would make it disappear. Someone else suggested that I never talk to Jim about his cancer, that I deflect his questions.
But Jim wanted to know the reality of his situation and he asked me lots of questions.
So I said “cancer” and “tumor” and we talked about what was happening. We talked about his disease and the treatments. And we both asked lots of questions, some medical, but the more important ones, I think, were spiritual.
Jim would ask, “What does God want me to learn from this?” and I would ask, “What does God want me to do?”
We both learned a lot from our questioning, especially about accepting reality. “It is what it is,” we said time and again, “and we will make the best of it,” we added.
We also learned a lot about letting go of expectations and hurt feelings.
Jim reviewed his life, recalling significant events and people. Knowing he was going to die soon gave him a sense of urgency to make sure he was as much at peace with his past as possible.
I did what I thought God wanted me to do—I walked beside Jim as he journeyed to his death and gave him all the opportunities he needed to talk. I prayed with him, cared for him and helped him find peace.
Many times during his illness, Jim told me he believed God had been preparing me all my life to care for him during his illness—mostly through my experiences with people with disabilities.
It is the kind of thing we could not prove, but it seemed right.
Those experiences had given me practical knowledge about the kind of assistance Jim needed when he was sick—bathing and dressing, lifting and transferring. More importantly, they taught me to accept the reality of people’s lives and make the best of most any situation.