As I was driving home from the gym, a little tired and a little sweaty, I saw the most beautiful moon. It sat on the shoulder of Mt. Hood, glowing its usual pale yellow in a pink hazy sky, but it was huge. I think it is what people call a harvest moon. I don’t really know, and even though I have the internet at my fingertips I don’t really feel like looking it up.
It seems more romantic to say, “Harvest moon.”
I was listening absent-mindedly to NPR. A play was on–one of those one acts. It was a scene between a mother and a son. They were in Rome on vacation, and the mother was uninhibited. All she could talk about were her orgasmic dreams and how she thought the guy at the bar had deliciously large hands. I wasn’t listening that close to begin with, I was paying more attention to that moon. But slowly their conversation threw a lasso around my ears. It turns out that mom was dying of cancer, and her son had given her this vacation.
Pretty soon I was crying.
Son was explaining that he had planned this trip to show her all she had to fight for–to give her hope for the future. But then she started explaining that she wanted to die in room. She was sick of the experimental drugs and the false medical hope. She was so gentle as she explained that all the hope she could ever want was in dying exactly the way she wanted. In Rome with her son, drinking aperitif and ogling men with big hands.
I have been thinking a lot about death lately. I am a Hospice volunteer. I only have one patient at a time, and I meet with them once a week until they die and then I get a new patient. That sounds a little callous, but it is anything but. Then for the Portland Book Review I was given a book that traces the evolution of the medical industry and the resulting approach we as a society have towards those who are dying. Then there are personal experiences with aging family members, and of course the play that I just listened to.
It got me thinking about cancer, and the big questions: What If? What if?
Would I want to fight till I am a sack of bones in a bed in a hospital? Would I take the odds at face value and go live as hard as I can until I can’t anymore? I don’t know. But The Inevitable Hour: A History of Caring for Dying Patients in America by Emily K Abel, drove the point home that while medicine has become adept at postponing death, it hasn’t concurred it and as such maybe dying needn’t be something sterile and unpleasant. Maybe it can be something at home, something simpler, with family.
But that is simplifying things a bit. It was just an errant train of thought. Just something to think about. Maybe it was the moon that pulled all the separate thoughts together: Hospice, books, family, plays about cancer. Ever see Moonstruck? Moons have power. Just look at it: