In case you haven’t hear the song by Tim McGraw take a listen:
So, after all this time of watching my wife write her blogs, I thought I’d give it a try myself. So, here I go… In my wife’s last blog post she initially wrote about a song called, “Live Like You Are Dying” by Tim McGraw. With my advice, she then took out all the song references and wrote about travel instead, saving the blog title for the future. Fortuitously, when we turned on our iTunes radio this morning the two songs that happened to play first were “If I Die Young”, and then, the Tim McGraw song. While the music was playing all I could think of was how full of shit that song is. It sounds great- live in the moment, do the things you’ve always wanted to do, be a nicer person, but, again, that is not reality. Reality sucks. My wife is young, beautiful, smart, passionate, athletic, and, though she doesn’t like to admit it, extremely brave, and cancer is taking all that away right now. So, to the song I say, fuck you. Let me tell you what “live AS you are dying” is really like.
When we first moved to Chile after three years in China we were young, fresh faced, fun loving people with no wrinkles, who enjoyed a night out and a whole lot of revelry. Eli loved the big night and hosted several legendary parties. The world was hers for the taking. Ah, the naivety of youth…
Here is the thing: time is finite, period. Dying, at least the strong possibility of that occurring, makes you acutely aware of that fact. Most everyone has five, ten, twenty year plans and are making decisions based on what they want to do in future. When you live as you are dying, you get days, weeks, and maybe months to plan your life.
Now I know the song tells you to live in the moment, and for most people that is something they need to work on, but when you might be dying, living in the moment is forced on you. Eli and I have enjoyed our time in Chile, but it’s a constant reminder of many painful things. We are international teachers and therefore we have a need to be wandering the world. When the cancer re-metastasized in her brain, all that time we thought we had to move around the world screeched to a sudden halt. We had planned a summer trip back to the states to get professional development on Project Based Learning, which we were both really excited about, and we also were excited to visit friends and family, some of which we haven’t seen in over a year. All of those plans, simply gone. And that’s something the song doesn’t tell you. Yeah, we bought some last minute plane tickets, got to do some traveling and see things Eli has always wanted to see, but is that worth the price she has to pay? I don’t think so, Tim.
Even this consolation prize of travel comes with a caveat. Brain radiation, chemotherapy, steroids, and all the other drugs administered to her by her doctor, takes a huge toll on the body. Eli was an exceptional athlete. She was the one of the best female athletes in her high school and went off to play soccer at the college level. She was fast and physical and loved playing sports. For now, poof, gone, good-bye, thank you cancer! Now, a flight of stairs, a slope up hill, or a change in sunlight can leave her dead in her tracks, feeling as if her head were a balloon ready to float off her head. Exhaustion takes over after an hour or so, and I swear it just her pure stubbornness that keeps her going, but even that has a limit. So Tim, again, is dying really as positive as you say it is?
I guess it is now time for me to concede the one truth that comes from the song: you become a better partner and friend. Yes! That is true. My wife has always been a remarkable woman; passionate, loving, and enjoyably wild, and now she’s showing more of her kind, caring, and, dare I say, motherly ways. But, even this has a down side. She might be dying, maybe not now (and hopefully not soon), but it’s happening and it is scary and it changes you. It takes a colossal effort to constantly show all of those nice adjectives I used to describe her on a daily basis. In reality, she is scared. She doesn’t know what is going to happen, how bad it’s going to hurt, how her family is going to react, will I be okay after she is gone, will she be remembered, and so much more. It’s enough to keep her curled up in a ball in her bed all day long, but this (thankfully), she hasn’t done.
Now on top of all of that she has to look into the mirror. Elizabeth is beautiful and always will be beautiful to me. This is only something you can say to someone you truly love, because you know the physical changes will never change your perception of them. But, all of the physical changes affect the way she views herself. She’s lost her hair again, her breast was chopped off and poorly put back together, she has puffed up due to steroids, her scalp has turned red due to the radiation, and she has put on weight through the whole process. Now, I’m fine with all of that, but Eli is not. And I don’t know of many people who could honestly say that they would be fine if it happened to them. The morning after her mother headed back to the states, Eli was trying to adjust her wig to her liking (an impossible task) and couldn’t get it to look even close to how she wanted it. All of this equated to uncontrollable screaming, crying, and thrashing about. This would be a natural response to the situation. Right? So here is the reality the song doesn’t tell you, and that is, that it’s difficult, taxing, and nearly impossible to be at your best all the time, and this is the truth that many of you don’t realize because she makes it look so easy. It’s hard to be a good wife and friend. It’s hard to be kind and caring and motherly. It’s hard to get out of bed and look at a face that you don’t even recognize anymore and to have to interact with others.
So, to live like you are dying… I’m sorry Tim, but I just don’t agree with it. It sucks and I don’t wish it on anyone. Dying is terrible no matter how you look at. So Tim, I can now say that I no longer like your song but I still think you are a great singer. (Eli still likes the song, however…)
Now, I didn’t write my first blog to make everyone feel bad for us or to have pity on us, but I wrote it so that people truly know how brave and amazing Eli really is. To live like you are dying is not graceful, or pretty, or fun, and it’s not the grand adventure you hear about in the song. The song should be about bravery and courage, a song about the desire to find humanity amongst the darkness of a deadly disease like cancer, and the attempt to find normality in the chaos of uncertainty. It should be a song about my wife. She is not perfect or better than anyone else who is facing death. She is just trying to survive and trying to love. She is trying to be brave and to fight through everything so that we can have another day together to laugh, cry, cuddle, yell, embrace, fight, forgive and, most importantly, love each other. Now, that is a song I could support, and that is “To Live AS You Are Dying”.
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Jon, I am very sorry to hear of your wife’s illness. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be. You are in my prayers.