A lot of friends and acquaintances will know that Debbie has been blogging since her diagnosis with cancer back in February. If you've read one of her most recent posts you'll know that we are now in a phase where containing the progress of her illness is probably the most we can hope for.
During this time, I was asked whether I was going to blog about it from the point of view of someone close to a person with cancer. I'm not quite sure what has held me back from doing so until now - perhaps not feeling it's 'my' story, not wanting to appear to wallow in things, or simply not knowing what to say. However, as our family has gone on this unexpected and unwelcome journey with cancer, I have been aware of a few recurring themes, so I thought I'd have a try at putting some of them into words in a few posts. This first try isn't a carefully thought out article - it's just what's bubbling in my mind at the moment.
We are in a strange phase now, not having any real idea of how long we may have, but a sense that this indeterminate period of time has an end point. Debbie has been physically constrained by her illness, but is very much here and with us - in and around the house, sharing meals, conversation, laughter, watching TV, writing and blogging and in many ways being her usual self. So we have a kind of double track going on - valuing the present, and also making sensible preparations for what is to come. Debs and I were only talking yesterday about how disconcerting, but necessary, it is for me to think myself into a future without her, even when she's in front of me and talking to me. Yet even as I write that down, it's quite hard to believe it's me typing it.
Since Debbie's current condition was confirmed, I have realised how weird it is to be a clergyperson. For 25 years I've been spending time with people who have been seriously and terminally ill, I've been with them close to and at the time of death, I've been with next of kin when they've heard of diagnoses and bereavements, I've prepared and taken hundreds of funerals and helped people find bereavement support. Does that make any difference? I guess it's a classic 'yes and no' response. Bereavement won't be any easier for me emotionally, than it would be for anyone else, but it will, at least, be familiar territory.
My experience is that for most people, conversation about death or dying is completely alien. I meet adults who have rarely, if ever, gone to a funeral or seen someone who has died. Many were prevented from attending funerals as children, and carry 'baggage' from that with them into their adult experience. It's fairly unusual to meet someone who has a clear and full idea of everything that's involved around the death of someone. And, of course, most people want to stay in denial that someone might die, until the issue is forced upon them by necessity. I have witnessed, and have felt, the great temptation for people to cling on to any hint of an upturn in someone's condition as the sign of a major recovery. Under those circumstances, any discussion of the subject of dying tends to be suppressed, as if talking about it will make it more likely.
If I was going to offer any advice out of my experience, it would be to encourage people to start talking about death and dying - what you hope for and what you fear, how you'd like to be remembered, and even some first thoughts on what sort of ceremony you would hope for. Do this before it's too late, and preferably when you have some time to think, read, research and discuss. I'm glad we have had some time to do this - it means we can go forward into whatever the coming time may hold, with some key decisions made, knowing it will be easier for those of us who are left. Crucially we'll know that one of the most important events in our life with each other was not a taboo that held us in fear, but a daunting challenge that we prepared for together.
In case any of that has helped, here's a couple of useful resources and links that might help to get you started:
Church of England Funerals Site Lots of information about ceremonies and practicalities.
November is Will Aid month, so it's a good time to get one written/updated and support some great charities in the process.