What would be on your Dead or Alive list?

Silhouette of woman riding bike, holding handlebars and body flying behind herI’ve met an incredible young woman through my travels in the cancer world. She has beaten brain cancer with her intellect sharply intact but some lingering motor challenges. For the sake of this post, let’s dub her Brilliant Brain (B.B. for short). I recently witnessed B.B.’s childlike joy at riding her bicycle, a significant accomplishment given her post-treatment difficulties with balance. She’s a role model for living life to the fullest.

B.B. writes in a way that is funny and enlightening, overflowing with insightful gems that capture the human experience. After reading my last post, she suggested I create a Dead or Alive list, “kind of the opposite of a bucket list”. On her Dead or Alive list she’d include, among other things, owning an iguana, running a marathon, bungee jumping, and watching 100 football games.

I love the idea but would I put going to my 35th high school reunion on mine? Sure, I haven’t attended the first 34, but my declining the invitation to this year’s reflects my focussing on what’s important to me at this time in my life. Fostering relationships with people I no longer interact with is low on my totem pole, but there are many other things much lower, like petting a ferret, baking croissants when I could just buy them, and climbing Mount Everest.

B.B. also remarked on the death jokes I often make in my blog. She asked: “Is it weird or offensive when other people do?” First off, I commend B.B. for acknowledging my death quips because few people do. I know I write about death a lot. I’ve even considered making Death a blog category, but worry I might then attract the Death Café crowd. I write about death so openly because I think, for many of us, death is inherently scary. I want to normalize and maybe even desensitize myself (and you?) to that fear. I, for one, am less anxious when I talk about the things that scare me.

I often wish others would share their own thoughts and fears and insights about dying with me. I won’t die sooner, nor will you, if we talk about it. In fact, I’d feel like I’m not so alone. To clarify, though, hanging out at the Death Café is firmly on my Dead or Alive (Over My Dead Body?) list. There are limits.

I know that, if someone is suicidal, I won’t make her more likely to kill herself by asking her about it. In fact, I may lessen her urge to harm herself by giving her license to talk about it, and by letting her know I am concerned about her. Similarly, you won’t raise my anxiety if you ever want to talk about death. If you’re at a loss for words, I don’t know what to say, by the late oncologist Robert Buckman, is a great book on talking to someone who is dying.

I hope I’ll still be able to joke about death when mine is impending. Right now, my death feels like a constant but not imminent threat, so I’m practicing for when that shifts. Will I still be able to joke about my demise once it’s staring me in the face? Who knows? I’ll have to cross that abyss when I come to it.

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5 thoughts on “What would be on your Dead or Alive list?

  1. I have always enjoyed your dark sense of humor about death. You definitely have increased my comfort level by letting me inside your head.

    I am still not comfortable enough to comment on the jokes. I suppose that is silly; if you didn’t want readers to laugh, you wouldn’t make the jokes! I will start slow: Your imaginary reply to the reunion organizer was hilarious.

    Does J like to make jokes as well? I am not coping with the same issues as you, however I know my husband and I joke about my illness all of the time. Sometimes people don’t have any clue what to say when they observe it, because it is so outside of their comfort zone!

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    • Jackie: Thanks for your thoughtful and insightful comment. I’m glad my joking has helped broaden your comfort zone. I imagine people are taken aback when you and your husband joke about your illness, but I bet it makes them think about the different ways we all cope. I cannot speak for J. but I imagine death is not her favourite topic. She often reminds me that I’ve beaten the odds thus far and I’ll likely outlive her. Over my dead body, I say. Thanks for piping in. Annie

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  2. It goes without saying it is a hell of a lot easier to joke about your partner fainting than it is to joke about her death. I figured I would ask to find out if you two are to me, what my husband and I are to other people who feel uncomfortable mentioning how sick I am, let alone joking about it!

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  3. I like the death jokes as well. I applaud your strength in saying them and the comfort level with the with the broader associations of the topic.

    I don’t feel I have advice to give that you don’t already espouse. Be comfortable with the certainty that it will eventually happen for everyone, and enjoy yourself as much as you can in the meantime.In fact I consider your example to be the one I will follow when it’s my time to have these hard conversations

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    • Dear Jesse: Thank you for your kind and inspiring comment. I could not think these deathly thoughts, let alone write about them, without the support of my dear friends like you. I am truly honoured to be your death model. XO Annie

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