Life’s a bitch and then you die. My dad always said this. While it may sound like the epitome of pessimism, it was just his dose of reality. His way of reminding us that we all have the same fate to look forward to. It’s how you live your life and treat others that matters.
Life is compiled of moments of happiness so tangible you’d swear you could reach out and touch it coupled with pain that takes your breath away. In the end, we all end up in the same place. You take those moments and you tuck them away to revel in or learn from as needed.
In my experience, those who suffer from death are the ones left behind. The ones left to our own devices, being swallowed up by our memories. Those who leave us aren’t hurting. They’ve done what we’re all meant to do. Mission completed.
Today, I visited my cousin Kathy. She’s battled cancer for a while and her time card on this planet will soon be punched. She knows this and appears to be content. As everyone around her dabs their eyes, she’s the same no-nonsense woman I’ve always known her to be, fanning herself dramatically as the attractive hospice nurse takes his leave, “That’s my future ex-husband,” she jokes.
Her sister sits with a large glass and they begin to fight over its contents. “You done drank that whole bottle of Crown. Are you fucking kidding me? That ain’t how you cope.” Kathy says. “It’s only my second glass and my birthday is tomorrow,” is her sister’s reply. Kathy fires back, “Bitch, that’s tomorrow! Don’t make me get up and jack slap you cause I’ll fucking do it. ”
Her sister breaks down. “This is how I’m coping. OK? I can’t handle this shit. They’re saying you’re dying and I’m just supposed to go on?” “Yes,” Kathy says calmly. “How?” her sister asks.
“You have pictures and memories and I’ll still be around,” Kathy says. Several minutes later they are hugging as Kathy continues her role as the comforter.
This is when I start to break. Here is my cousin, exuding strength and love when she has every reason to be angry as fuck. She’s 45-years-old and is going next week to plan her funeral. She has kids and a husband who adores her but none of that matters when your body decides to betray you.
She mentions a medicine that could dramatically improve her quality of life during this time but it’s $4,000 a month. It may as well be a million. I wonder how this process is for wealthy people. I know money doesn’t cure cancer but is the transition easier when you can buy the end-of-life comforts that are out of reach to folks like us? Do you pass easier knowing that your burial isn’t depleting someone’s life savings?
Our conversations drift from family and the good times to those who are no longer with us. If I look to my right, I see the bedroom where my Uncle Gary took his own life not that long ago. My mind reels with the weight of it all. Why does it feel like death comes in waves?
My Aunt Tammy remembers that she just saw a great picture of my dad and pulls it up on her phone. It was a photo that I took of him during one of our adventures. We were at a brewery in Tampa and I was trying to convince him of the wonder that is craft beer. He has a pilsner in his hand, his cane between his legs, and a smile on his face. I love that picture. At the end of the day, he still preferred Yuengling Lager.
As we get ready to leave, I give Kathy a hug and tell her how much I love her. I think about all the times she’s lifted me up. She’s read pretty much everything I’ve ever written, sharing it on social media and sending me words of praise. Those moments have been priceless to me.
For the next few hours, my mind races with a million thoughts. I let myself enjoy the fact that my mom is in the driver’s seat and I got to spend the day with her. We travel across Lake Pontchartrain where my dad’s ashes were spread less than a year ago. I think about all of the young, healthy people that are gliding along in life and will still not outlive Kathy because of car accidents and gun violence and whatever other bullshit it out to get us.
I admire my cousin’s faith and courage. She seems so peaceful and regal, even. If you didn’t know about her condition, you’d think she just had a long day at work and fighting the day’s fatigue. She’s a badass in the very best way. I think about what my impact on the world will be.
Life’s a bitch and then you die. My dad was on to something. All you can do is live the best life you can and leave those who are left behind with a little bit of your goodness to spread along their path after you’re gone.
I love you, Kathy. There’s a spot for you in the book that I will one day write about this crazy thing called life.