We Are All So Different
By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.
Last week a friend decided to stop cancer treatment and go on hospice. Not everyone thought it was a good decision. Some, who were also undergoing chemotherapy couldn’t imagine making that choice. Some thought she was being selfish and not thinking of her family. Others thought that she was being generous in not wanting to be any more of a burden on her pregnant daughter than necessary. It was a messy decision to have to make.
Another friend refused to stop chemotherapy even after her oncologist confirmed that the treatments had stopped being effective and were only making her weaker. No way was she going to give up on one more chance of beating this death sentence. Her friends ultimately knew it was her choice, but wondered themselves what would they do in that situation--keep fighting or “give in”.
Another friend of mine, age 52, died suddenly from complications of diabetes. He had enjoyed a great life, did great works in the community, fought for justice, and lived hard and fast in spite of his medical condition. “He should have taken better care of himself,” some said. “52 is too young to die.”
Some people know they have a fatal illness, but don’t tell anybody. They do not seek confirmation of the gravity of the situation, nor do they want treatment. They don’t talk about their illness because they don’t want their reasoning challenged by their care provider, family or friends. They don’t want pity or well meaning advice. They just perceive that they are, in fact, old enough to die, and they are not afraid of that possibility.
This list of different responses by those facing death could go on and on. How we think. How we act. How we make decisions is so individual. How we come to decisions is related to our history, our experience, our values and even our reality. Sometimes it’s a conscious choice, but not always.
It is easy to be quick to judge others’ decisions. Our judgment may come from our own fear of death, or selfishly not being ready to be without them in our life. In the support groups I have led over the years a common theme is present. It goes like this. Family and friends are trying to run my life and tell me what I should do or not do. Is it we just don’t know how to communicate our feelings well with each other without sounding patronizing or judgmental?
I am trying to be careful to remember that each of us has but one life that we are in charge of. I’m trying to stay in that little piece of the cosmos that is only mine and let others direct their own life. I believe it’s good to ask questions and dialogue with each other about what we’re doing and why. But in the end it would seem that the kindest thing we can do is to trust the other person, make sure they and we are aware of all their options and that they know all the resources available to them. Then just love them no matter what is their choice.