Watching Nancy deal with her cancer is truly a sight to behold. Her embrace of the (probably) inevitable is refreshing in this world of “you got to fight to stay alive”. She posts every morning on Facebook in a public post some thoughts on her situation, cooking or her life as she has lived it.
While many of us look forward to her posts and admire her candor, I imagine there are some to whom it is disturbing. We are taught to revere life and to hang onto it as long as possible. The way most of us die is painful, expensive and boring. But there is an atavistic urge toward self-preservation, no matter how illogical it may be. To be fair, while some of this is rooted in an individual’s own drive toward survival, much of it is driven by the needs of others.
We hang onto life in an effort to avoid hurting those loved ones around us. We want to keep our children from becoming orphans. Most of my friends and I don’t have children. I am completely unfamiliar with that paternal love that would drive one to the ends of the earth to protect their offspring from discomfort or harm. Sure, I love my pets and I have some of the greatest friendships in the history of friendship (yes, I said that, bitches, deal with it!) I am aware, however, that those relationships will probably not drive me to stay alive in order to spare them pain.
When my mother died of cancer over 30 years ago, she had a 13 year old son still living at home. The rest of us were up in Boston or in NYC. My parents didn’t tell John that her disease was probably fatal. There was always a “chin-up” attitude that this would all work out in the end. There were extensive grabs at possible cures, remote miracle procedures that could succeed with the right combination of diligence and prayer. Macrobiotic diets, a trip to Florida for a major vitamin C infusion, and traditional radiation (no chemo, if memory serves).
This was the hardest thing my father ever had to go through and he navigated it like a champ, or at least like sub-lieutenant in the Royal Navy navigating through Hussey’s Reef on Manus Island in the South Pacific. I can’t imagine the fear and grief he felt. On the night of her death, John and Pop and I went over to the Middletons’. My father told John what was about to happen. As we were saying our goodbyes to Cacky and Algy before going home, Pop said to Algy (a fellow Argentine), “El hijo sabe.” John could not have lived in that house through all this without knowing. The next morning John and I went back over to Cacky and Algy’s. Star Trek 2, The Wrath Of Khan was on cable. There is the whole Spock dying scene along with his funeral (being shot out of a photon torpedo tube, a method I would totally go for, just saying). This is how we processed our grief, through television, guided by Gene Roddenberry.
We continued to process our grief for years afterwards in shrink offices, bars, churches, and with friends. We went on to marry great women, each of whom I believe to this day would be great friends with my mother. We gave her (well, not we) 14 grandchildren, of whom I’m sure she is so proud. And the five us went on to excel in our careers, our hobbies and our communities.
Our Copake family will be there for Nancy during this time, but we are really there for Neil and each other. Our big huge family will not only endure, it will triumph, thanks, in no small part, to Nancy.