An Army of White Corpuscles
Last year, my wife was hovering near the edge of life, suffering from the final stage of lymphatic cancer. For two days she experienced her life energy actually leaving her body. During one period when she was conscious, I told her that I would be with her all the way to the edge but that I would not go over the edge with her. I committed myself to her and promised that if she were to die, I would later be buried beside her after my own death, so that she could rest in peace until I rejoined her in death. These words proved to be tremendously helpful to us both and she relaxed visibly under their soothing message.
The nurses at the Ottawa General Hospital later told us that many spouses demonstrate very poor skills in relating to their ill partners at this juncture. Many husbands leave their wives at this time due to their inability to love and care at the profoundly deep level that is required. The stress is “back breaking”. Our over-privileged, materialistic society just does not prepare us for this level of reaching out – especially if one is a male.
The incredible complexity and jumble of emotions and reactions that take place within the individual in this type of situation are nearly impossible to express on paper. What I would like to share with you are some of the techniques and concepts that we learned in this crucible. We feel that many of them could be applied by most people – ill or not – to achieve a higher quality of life.
Three basic guidelines stand out above all others:
- Listen to your body. Pains, illnesses, etc. are an opportunity, a warning, a beacon with regard to your direction ahead. Ignore these signals and more problems will follow.
- Keep a positive attitude, if possible, even under the most dire circumstances. However, acknowledge and deal with the negative thoughts and feelings. Often you might feel both positive and negative at the same time. Under extreme stress, this reaction is functional and quite all right.
- Join or form a support group of people in similar circumstances to your own. The average neighbour, friend or colleague has almost no idea of what you are going through. They can actually unintentionally hurt you and further aggravate the problems.
I joined a support group at the Ottawa Civic Hospital called “Living with Cancer”. It was the only support group that I could find in the area. It was superb, but lasted only six weeks – then what? The twelve members of the group decided to continue meeting on our own and have been having sessions together and calling each other for the past six months. My wife commented many times how grateful she was that I attended these sessions. She believes that the support group relieved the stress immensely and so do I.
Some concepts and issues that have come out during our sessions are:
- How much information about your illness, treatment, etc. is too much? When does it become counter-productive?
- One really learns who their true, authentic friends are and conversely, the phonies are unmasked.
- You become more concerned about your quality of live each day – not just at some point in the future.
- You must come to terms with your own death. Like a first car accident, you now know it can happen to you.
- A little bit of support can go a long way.
- Beware of isolating yourself and withdrawing when under a lot of stress (especially men). Force yourself, if necessary, to reach out and ask for support. It is not a sign of weakness; rather it is a sign of great strength. You are not alone. Aloneness is an attitude, not a reality.
Our support group has limited its size so that we can stay intimate and supportive of each other. If others would like to draw upon our experience, please call us and we will share with you ideas which could help you to start your own group. (Richard: (613) 726-3636).
Note: Even though this article was written several years ago, you can still contact Richard regarding starting your own support group.
We envision dozens of small circles of support (sometimes collectively getting together for joint ventures, speakers, etc.). One concept that emerged from a support group session was that of an “army of white corpuscles” inside the body, working to overcome a virus or body malfunction. Our network of support groups could help to promote this healing force outside the body.
For a continuation of Helen and Richard’s story, and the further realizations that Richard came to through Helen’s death, please see the article “The Passage of A Wise Woman”