Monday, July 13, 2009

“Dying is hard,” by Rachel Barkey (RIP)

The following letter is from the stark personal viewpoint of a dying woman. Rachel Barkey died on 2 July. Rachel knew death was not about dying. I have included it to inspire and enlighten people. Her faith in Jesus has inspired thousands and continues to. Her letter from 20 April begins:

Dying is hard.

I’m not sure what I thought it would be like but I think I hoped it would be easier than this. But, admittedly, I’m not that tough.

First of all, I’ve never done it before and there’s no one around who’s done it before to ask how to do it well. You have to prioritize and plan your days, weeks, months, without knowing how much time you actually have. You have to find the balance between complaining so that you can get relief and not complaining so that you don’t annoy all the nice people who are trying to help you. All this, I am learning, I am not that good at.

I went to bed the other night feeling ok but woke up an hour later with searing pain in my head. If it didn’t sound so odd, I’d say that I can feel the cancer growing. My face went more numb and I had crazy pain in my jaw and head. The cancer has spread to my shoulders too so those ache often as well. I took some pain medication and it’s subsided somewhat but was then wide awake and couldn’t stop thinking about how this is all going to go down. Will it be fast? Slow? More painful than it is now? I ask but there are, of course, no answers.

The last couple of weeks have been a bit more rough. More bad days. Fewer good days. I’ve had some more radiation on my other hip and my sternum where the cancer has spread and was causing discomfort. I usually get a little “bounce” a few days after the radiation when the nausea and fatigue from the treatment have worn off. Today was one of those days - kind of. I got to to go out for lunch with a friend. I got to take the kids to their art class. I got to get the groceries for supper. And then I came home and spent the rest of the day in bed…and my head started hurting. It’s like that. Ups and downs. And it can vary by the hour. Which I’m sure, if it is frustrating for me, must be maddening to those around me who have to deal with me. One moment I am insisting that I am perfectly fine to do something and the next am asking for help to get a sip of water.

Dying is hard. And now I better understand some of the things people struggle with as they near death.

I remember my grandmother who, at the end of her life could not move, see or hear very well and wondered what Jesus was waiting for - why wouldn’t he take her home now? I understand how she felt. I remember my grandfather, who died just last year, as he patiently endured our entreaties to eat, our constant asking of “How are you feeling?” or our efforts to make him more comfortable. I understand how he felt. And then there are the moments where the kids ask, “Mom, how come you got cancer?” Those questions, of course, are the hardest.

Although I do very little these days, the one thing I do is pray more. I’ve never been a great person of prayer, to my shame. But when I’m lying awake at night or trying not to throw up or just alone in bed - I pray. I pray because it is the only useful thing I can do. And, that said, it is a very good investment of the time I do have. I pray for Neil. A lot. How grateful I am for him and for strength to endure what is being asked of him. I pray for Quinn and Kate - while I still can. And I pray for the many people that God brings to my mind in the midst of my darkness.

So all that to say, I’m not very good at this. I am trying though. And when I think of the end, of how hard dying already is, and of how hard it will be for those I love when I’m gone, these are the verses that come to mind:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”
Isaiah 43:1-2

Dying is hard. But not as hard as it could be.

with love,

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