Death, and given the date, Taxes

Spring                                                                        Rushing Waters Moon

This time the snow storm underperformed. Maybe 3 inches. Good news, really, since it means Colorado Pulmonary Intensivists won’t close and we’ll finally get to have a delayed visit there, pick up Kate’s ct reading and discuss her j-tube surgery.

fearGot my own thing going on, too. Second PSA showed a slight uptick from a month ago, from .12 to .13. As Kate said, probably in the lab’s margin of error. Still, it is cancer we’re talking about here. Any increase over .1 sends some sort of signal, just how serious a one I don’t know. Going in to see the urologist as soon as I can get an appointment.

Not the best judge of my anxiety about this. When I sent the note to Dr. Eigner, the surgeon who removed my prostate, I said my psa had gone up to 1.2. That’s a huge difference from .12. I misplaced the decimal point. Not at my calm best on that e-mail.

As I hear myself thinking, my self talk is like this. I need more information. I don’t know enough to  know whether this is bad or just something we’ll need to watch. Or, both. But wait. It’s cancer. You know, CANCER. I don’t want to have a sell-by date given to me, or worse an expiration date. This body no good after 13 years. Oh, come on. We all die. And, you’ve even referred to your eventual cause of death as your friend.



Death is not an enemy. It’s an inevitability. Yes, it takes my breath away when my inner conversation veers towards my absence, my annihilation. Sometimes. Other times, I take it in, embrace it. I take from the Tibetan Buddhists that being calm at the moment of your death is a spiritual goal. It is for me and that also means being calm about death since it always approaches, is never further away than your next breath.

We begin and we end. This much we know with certainty. If life, that time between a sleep and a sleep as the Mexica say, is filled with apprehension about the end, then this brief mayfly moment will be wasted. That’s why Yamantaka encourages us to consider our death in as realistic as a fashion as we can. See our dead body. Imagine it in a coffin. Feel the last breath leaving your body. Imagine the world without you.

Not sure about the notion of an afterlife. Reincarnation? The Buddhists think so. Heaven or hell? Very unlikely since I know the literary sources for both of them. Absorption back into the 10,000 things? Makes the most sense, but sense is an artifact of this life and in particular an artifact of human reason. All the data we have comes from our singular experience in this body, in this lifetime. We have no prebirth memories (I find past-life regressions difficult to believe. Which does not mean untrue.). We have no post-death returns save for those who have experienced death and been revived in some way. Even those experiences are brief and inevitably the product of a difficult moment.

death Osiris-nepraWhat about Jesus? There again, I know the literary sources. The earliest gospel, Mark, probably did not include a resurrection narrative. The dying and rising god is a motif of certain Middle Eastern belief systems, the story of Osiris for example.

Would we all like to have a definitive report back from beyond the pale? Not sure. What if it contradicts our hopes, our beliefs?

Here’s the nub of it. I know and love life. But it is, I admit, all I know for certain, except that it also ends. I’m not eager to trade a known good for an unknown. Most aren’t, I suppose. When a mortality signal like a possible return (or more like a reemergence) of cancer comes, part of me responds with fear, with anxiety. Another part of me responds with acceptance of my death.Which is, in any case, not  yet.

Charon and Psyche, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope. 1883

Charon and Psyche, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope. 1883

The older I get I realize carrying contradictory states is the norm, at least for me. It’s like pneumonia. I learned this February that you can have both viral and bacterial pneumonia, in fact, you can have different strains of both. At the same time. We’re more complex, less simple than our reductive thinking processes can usually entertain.

One thing I find odd is being given thirteen years to live (a possible prognosis if this is a reemergence), makes me more anxious than not having such a number. Which is silly from a rational perspective. All that’s being taken away, all he said, is the fantasy of immortality. Without such a prognosis I could continue to live, well, ongoingly. Which of course we know not to be true. Anyhow at 72 I’m already two years into the bonus range beyond three score and ten.

Consistency, Emerson said, is the hobgoblin of small minds. On the matter of death and cancer I’m not a small mind.