THE BLOG

Life Lessons Disability Taught Me No.2 - Death

17/08/2016 10:19 | Updated 17 August 2016

In the first of this series I explored the subject of addiction, starting with how to spot addiction creeping up on you and then applying my personal techniques for kicking your habit. I felt I have enough knowledge on the subject due to a 35 year relationship with pain killing medicines I take thanks to chronic pain. While 35 years is a long time to have pain and addiction in your life, there is another issue that been with me for longer than that. I was born with a tumour in my abdomen the size of tennis ball and from then on death has stalked me. The Grim Reaper has a real obsession with me for all of my 50 years on this planet or even before I was born.

My tumour must have formed shortly after conception for it to be so large in a new born. At birth I was given no more a few weeks to live. Luckily my medical team tried a new chemotherapy regime on me, and I soon made it past the first of many times I should have died. As my treatment rolled on my parents were told to enjoy their time with me as I would never make it past the age of 5. Then before my 7th birthday my father died of a heart attack. His death is my first memory. From then on I found myself being told by almost every adult I met that it was the stress of me being so ill than killed him. I am sure they meant no harm, but it led to me being sure that I had killed my dad. This is the first thing my being disabled taught me; that death happens, to us all. Human nature is such that we need to find a reason and this leads is to place blame in the weirdest places. We cam blame anyone or anything and while it may make us feel better, it is wasted emotion. Sure sometimes it can come earlier than we'd have hoped but it WILL happen. Which brings me to the next thing I learned about death.

When I was 15 I was very ill and I ended up in a terminal ward, with everyone sure I was dying... again. Obviously I made it but all of my ward mates except one died while I was there, many less than peacefully. So as a teenage boy I saw people of all ages, of all backgrounds die and then saw the aftermath of that death. It reinforced the experience of watching my father die and how that death impacted on my mother, his family and us kids. Of course all this happened while I was thought to be dying too. When I was moved from this ward, and eventually came home as a wheelchair user, I was a changed person. Seeing so much death made me realise that life is precious and however much time you have should be lived to the fullest. From then on I used the memory of that ward to push me to waste as little time as possible on rubbish, and to grab every opportunity that came along. This is the biggest thing I have learned about death; it happens at the end of life but it's life that matters the most. The great leveller should also be the great motivator. Don't ignore that you will die, and don't be afraid of it either. If you live your life as well as you can when the reaper does finally come calling, you can die assured of a life well lived.

It's thanks to my adopting this attitude towards life, and death, I have had an amazing life. It's also been a lot longer than anyone expected. Throughout my childhood everyone I knew acted towards me as if I might leave them any time soon. This led to me being rather spoiled child with tons of presents and trips. Just as I hit 15 years since my cancer, which is the big all clear, you've beat it celebration, my spine collapsed and I was off to that terminal ward. Seeing what I saw there made me understand the reasoning behind my upbringing. Spoiling a sick child gives them something to live for, and I took that as a route for my adult life. Living each day like it was my last was not only a great way of living well, but I felt it was a fact. I just couldn't see myself making much longer, definitely not past the age my father died at. I have no idea why, it just seemed obvious. I would die by the age of 35. If I was lucky.

Typically I fell in love on my 30th birthday, and this troubled me a lot. I was terrified that I would leave my love the way my father left my mother. My now wife then taught me something else. It's not always your choice how to react about dying. Sometimes you might want to give up, but those around you, if they love you, they will want you to stay with them for as long as you can. On my 40th, just after surgery to repair breaking my back for the second time in a car accident, I married this wonderful person, despite still not being sure I might last much longer. I wanted to be her husband and she wanted to be my wife for as long as possible. This year I celebrated my 50th and our 10th wedding anniversary. For the first time in my life I have no idea how long I might live. I am the healthiest I have been in a long time, and I might possibly have another 20, or 30, or 40 or even 50 years ahead of me. That's the last lesson; no one knows how long we have but that's a great thing.

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