Wednesday, December 22, 2010

RIP: sarah deere

A former regular on the eschaton board, sarah deere, died yesterday. A lovely and loving soul, she never quite recovered from the loss of her dearly loved grandchild in her middle school years to embryonal cell rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer we know neither origin nor how to treat. Sometimes I wish I believed in heaven; if I did, I'd be comforted that she's up there with mended heart, reunited with her Warrior Princess, cruelly struck down in this vale of wrath and tears during a blameless childhood by one of those far too numerous things that for me exclude the presence of an omnipotent, omniscient, just and loving God. I join the rest of the eschaton community in wishing we could have helped her cope with that with which it is nearly impossible to cope. I join most of us in being both glad and sorry I'm human. Her death makes my humanity, for all its limitations, all its opportunities to encounter beauty and horror, the picayune and the infinite, more poignant and harder to feel grateful for, even as I read of a life well lived.

Some deaths seem the natural end of a long life, even timely. Most of us, perhaps--certainly just about every health professional--hopes for a graceful exit with little pain, quick progression, maintenance of faculties and a chance to say goodbye, rather than a prolonged flogging of what little life is left in an obscene festival of tubes, lines, machines, dependence and pain. We don't always get what we want, but at least there's the possibility. I fear my own death not at all. But childhood cancer, especially, violates every last one of our coping mechanisms for dealing with death, and our sense of justice, striking the innocent unexpectedly and all too often mercilessly. Me, I think looking for justice down here is nothing more than denial of the appalling contingency of our lives, something so troubling that, for many, it becomes unacceptable, to the extent that it requires mitigation with simplistic religion, or the Kubler-Ross sort of dream of making death a natural part of life to be embraced, rather than the cause of fear and anger. Her steps for coping with death/loss are valid; I observed them and used them every day in practice. But a good part of her work suggests that one can always cope with death; the dark side of it is that if you can't, it's out of personal failing. And, with respect to another's death, rather than one's own, as often as it's an accepted part of life, it's something to be fought, out of anger, love and lost opportunity:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

(I always found the strict form of the poem, a villanelle, not only high artistry, but, too, a poignant assertion of control of the uncontrollable...)


Anonymous said...

Damn shame, I liked her.

Ruth said...

I admired her, once she and I had a talk and I told her something that was not a positive, encouraging thing but it was true. She always thanked me for it

ProfWombat said...

Lies told with the intent to encourage positive thinking almost always make things worse. They delegitimize actual feelings, which is precisely the opposite of the most necessary first step in support.

Raul Romea said...

"The Truth shall set you free."

Anonymous said...

Well said. I miss her a lot.