I inherited my mother’s fatalistic view of life. Since I have been old enough to understand, she has, especially during times of emotional distress, told my siblings and I that she will not be with us much longer. Now in her ninetieth year and going pretty strong, her dire warnings have more relevance than ever before. Now, however, at the age of eighty-nine and having to date outlived her husband by seven full years, she no longer uses the warning as a threat; it is more now like an expression of hope.
I’ve never wanted to die and unlike my mother, I’ve never felt the urge to warn my loved ones of my impending demise, imagined or otherwise. I’ve never liked the idea of scaring the people closest to me like that; an aversion born of being on the receiving end of it for as long as I can remember. In addition, I’ve never thought that tempting fate or the will of a cold, cruel universe was a wise course of action. I’ve always tended to assume the worst for much the same reason; once I start believing nothing is wrong, the fate/universe fairies will come to get me, and change the course of my life out of vindictive, punitive spite.
Just what I did, then, to bring a very rare kind of brain tumour upon myself, I have no idea. Any brain tumour is a rare condition, and I – perhaps out of a need to not be ‘typical’ - developed a rare version of a rare thing. Attention-seeking can, it seems, go bad very quickly.
Now, I’m far enough along the road to look back, suck on the end of my pencil (graphite is inert; I checked beforehand) and ponder upon what I’ve learned.
First – and it seems, also last - being sick makes me worry about whether I’m sick enough to warrant the moving attention and the concern of my loved ones. It’s best characterized as: am I really this sick or am I making a big deal out of nothing? One day I might admit to myself that it was actually as serious as it felt.
Second, I scare easily. I already knew this to some extent, but facing the truly unknown distils my irrational fears. Sentences such as “It’s a tumour but we don’t know what kind it is.” Push the wrong kind of buttons. The thought of leaving my loved ones at this young age shook me to my emotional core, and I have not yet recovered. Maybe I never shall.
Third, I no longer trust doctors to be correct. I know that mistakes were made during my treatment and care. I had not been a hospital in-patient since I was less than two years old, and the care that I received during the first of two stays following successive surgeries was an enormous disappointment. Worse has been the medical world’s reluctance and refusal to acknowledge the truth about my treatment and the mistakes which affected me. I do, and will always, bear the emotional and physical scars (I am considered disabled and have been advised to retire on health grounds) of those errors. My life has been forcibly changed; I have grown physically old in a very short space of time. Faced with the prospect of ongoing health issues for the rest of my life, I am not heartened.
Fourth, I have finally been forced through weight of evidence to accept that I am deeply loved. I know how this sounds, but it has taken me more than fifty three years to fully understand that despite my doubts, despite my previous sadness, I am indeed loved in ways I always dreamed about. I am loved in ways that I love others. It is too difficult to describe the impact of this realization, but it’s an emblem of change that I embrace and cherish.
It’s this latter revelation that I choose to now colour my perception of what seems like a different world. Anything else would be grey; relatively colourless and drab. Instead, I have learned that I am not, after all, alone. It’s taken me a while to get there, but…well, wow.