Suffering or Living Well is the Best Revenge
Suffering is something that a lot of people do, often daily. Suffering from fear or from jealousy; suffering from a cold or allergies; suffering from pain or loss. We all suffer. I spent years suffering from a bad childhood, rape, abuse, neglect, torment. Then I suffered from a bad knee, a dislocated hip, a damaged and crooked spine, chronic pain, migraines, a broken heart. The list of sufferings can go on and on for all of us.
I was recently told by someone I know that the death of her brother outweighs my cancer because I am going to live and I am getting new boobs, but her brother can’t be replaced. She went on to say that even the death of my mom is not as important as the death of her brother because a brother is a closer relationship. No one in my life, not even my family, has ever said something so hateful and cruel to me. How can one compare the deaths of anyone? Certainly it can be fair to say that Gandhi’s death was far more tragic than the death of Hitler, but I’m talking about regular people with regular lives. Obviously this girl loved her brother and they were very close, but how can she know that I did not love my mother or that she was not my very best friend? What gives her or anyone else the right to assume that their suffering trumps that of others?
My mother was my best friend. But when she died I chose, either consciously or subconsciously, not to suffer from her death but to survive it. I chose to become a better person. I’m still working on this every day because I never knew how to be a really good person before. That’s not to say that I haven’t cried a lot over the loss of my mother, but I realized that suffering my whole life only attracted all of this negative attention. It’s ok to suffer from something, but to suffer endlessly gets draining on other people. When I was younger and suffering from endless depression and physical pain, I could see that people around me were warn-out and wanted a break from me and all my suffering. But I got so much attention from it that I continued suffering until I lost all my friends. Then I couldn’t figure out why they’d left. A very close friend once told me that I always played the victim and it hit pretty hard but he made a good point. So I guess my mom’s death helped me see that even though she was dying she was still able to laugh and smile and make jokes. She wasn’t suffering; at least not endlessly. What she was doing was living. Her cancer was not survivable but she was alive until the very end. And she was a good person. I can’t say I’d have ever given her the Mother of the Year award, but she was good. She was Catholic and Republican, but I forgave her for that, and she was very accepting, well more along the lines of tolerant and respectful, of my opposing views. She taught and tutored disabled and terminally ill children. My aunt said last year that she could never understand how my mom could teach these children when she was going to funeral after funeral for them. I certainly didn’t see that when I was a kid because I was in my own world and didn’t know these children she talked about. I guess I didn’t quite get it then. I just hated sharing my mom with them and with god, and with anyone else. She was mine. As I grew up and we were adults together we would argued all the time and then we’d joke a lot about stupid things and talk about TV shows or my cat or something that happened somewhere, and she’d tell me all about my cousins and their weddings and babies and everything. When she died I remember my sister told me that she was gone. I was in the bathroom helping my niece wash her hands. I didn’t exactly react, I think I just said ok, and Theresa and I exchanged a glance that I think only daughters without their mother can share. Then I went out and looked at her body on the bed in the living room. She looked just like she had for the past week, lying on that bed, but now there was none of the “Darth Vader breathing,” as I called it; just quiet stillness. She was so calm and at peace. And I touched her. Just on the shoulder. I thought it would feel weird but I had to do it just to see if she might wake up and say “ha ha, I was just kidding! I’m not sick or dead! Let’s watch tennis on TV!” But she did nothing and after a while I went down the hall and lied on her bed where she always slept before she got too sick to sleep there, and I cried. My nephew, Brandon, came in and asked if I was ok and then he hugged me.
Just after my mom died I went to San Francisco and met up with a long time friend. She has had experience with death and I felt we were both part of this club no one really wants to be in—not unlike cancer. My friend had lost her newborn baby a few years before to a rare disease. I remember when I first heard about and I had no idea what to say. I think I just said how sorry I was and offered support. When we met up after my mom died she was so supportive and kind; she understood how I felt. I would never typically compare a death, but even my mom would be ok with my saying that losing a child does kind of outweigh losing anyone else. But my friend would never say that. She probably wouldn’t even think it. She’s not that kind of person. As a matter of fact, I’m sure she suffered a lot in losing her son, but she’s a better person now. She’s had another child since and she spends her days focusing on him and on caring for other young children. I admire that strength in her and I try to emulate it as best I can. I think that what this girl said to me about her loss and her pain mattering more than mine is reflective of her ignorance that I also matter as a person, and that we all suffer; it reflects her selfishness. But what I’m learning from it is that I am better than that and that my ability to empathize with everyone from humans to wee little bugs is a quality in myself that I can take pride in. It hurt to lose my mother. It hurts to lose anyone. But I can’t say I really suffered from it, I just remember that I was breathing differently and moving in slow motion a lot. I thought I would melt into a depression so deep I’d never recover but I didn’t. I actually started finding things in my mother’s life that made me want to be a better person. She helped a lot of kids and I love kids as much as she does, so I noticed that parallel in us. I was angry she was gone, and I still am sometimes. There are a lot of things I wish I’d said to her that I didn’t, and I feel that her life was cut far too short far too quickly, but I had two months with her to say good bye and I am trying not to regret any of it because I can’t change the past I can only create a better present which will lead to a better future. Seven months after she died I lost Louis too. He was my 13 year old cat. He was also my best friend. I spent every day with that cat and I knew him better than anyone. He was literally my soul mate. So when he died I burst into tears immediately and then felt at peace. I missed him but I knew he was no longer suffering from diabetes and that he had a great life. We really had no unfinished business like my mom and I did. But it still hurt, and I still miss him constantly. But he’s in my heart. Hell, he was my heart! And all during my mom’s death I was recovering from an abusive relationship and dealing with a very sick cat, but none of this makes my pain more important than anyone else’s pain over their lives and their struggles. It’s all in how we choose to deal with it. If we choose to deal with it at all.
What I’m learning is that loss and pain and disease are all a part of being alive. So when I see this girl suffering so much from her brother’s death I feel bad for her because death is so sad and so difficult on those of us still alive. But I would never compare her loss and mine, or her pain and mine. Actually I had felt that because we are both going through a hard time we are strangely connected despite the fact that we never really cared for each other. I feel like to compare struggles and life’s hardships would make me the biggest asshole on earth; I think about what could make a person do that and feel it is ok or justifiable, because it never is. And to say that my cancer is less important than her loss is to say that it doesn’t matter, but it does. The difference is that I just chose not to spend every day suffering from it. I’m living with it instead. I live with the losses I have had and I live with the pain and discomfort that I have. Life is too amazing to suffer all the time. Trust me I have my moments of sadness and self pity, but they don’t last long because I have other stuff to do. In the beginning I woke up with a constant reminder in my head: YOU HAVE CANCER! But as time has gone on and I have more things to distract me and keep me motivated I find that I have more and more days where the first thought I have each morning is not related to cancer at all. I actually got frustrated yesterday with the woman who called because I was in theatre-mode and she wanted to talk about cancer. I told her I’d call her back on Monday. I know I have it and I know everyone in my life is aware of it, but I don’t need them to suffer and I don’t need to suffer. It is part of my life, like anything else, and I deal with each aspect of it as it arises. I am very open about and I don’t feel that anyone, especially a selfish child like this girl, should try to make me feel ashamed of my cancer or that my cancer is getting in the way of her endless suffering. I own it because it’s mine and I have no other choice. Maybe people like her should consider that her endless suffering gets in the way of the rest of us trying to live happily and survive our own shit.
I talked to my friends and my teachers about this because of how hurtful it was and how much it made me want to punch the bitch in the jaw, and the overall consensus was that she’s so angry about her circumstances that she wants everyone else to suffer with her; that she’s too immature and not worth my time worrying about so I should just ignore her. They are right. What she said was her problem, not mine and I have no reason to let it effect my life negatively. In fact I can find all the positives in how it has impacted my life since and I already feel better. I’m better than her and I’m, by far, stronger than that. So I smile every day and I work hard on what I need to and, yes, I will survive cancer, but that certainly doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. We all have our shit, some more than others, but to compare whose pain is deeper or whose life matters more is to be petty and childish and cruel. And what does one get from that? I refuse to sink to that level; I’m too happy being above it. It is easy to suffer endlessly but it takes strength to fight the suffering and to I endure the pain in order to be a better person. I know that I am a better person.