Yes, we are all going to die. But some of us are going to die sooner than others. And when that happens to you, what are you going to do about it?
Yesterday, I read an essay in the Washington Post by Paul Woodruff about his living with a terminal lung disease called bronchiectasis. The last few sentences read:
There’s nothing wrong with dying. All the best people in history have done it. Let foolish philosophers see themselves as dying every day. Thinking of death, I choose life.
To embrace every moment of our lives even in the best of times is not an easy thing to do, and if you are a poet living with inoperable cancer, the act of that embrace is quite remarkable. On Easter morning, Karen Friedland and I met on Zoom to record her reading some of the poems she has written during her cancer journey.
She reads nine poems below, and three of those follow the Vimeo. Here, I will stop and let the poems speak for themselves.
Advice from the Incurable Cancer Patient
I will battle the beast,
and some day, possibly not far from now,
the beast will win—
it’s not personal,
it just is.
So please don’t tell me
to “just be positive!”
and “you’ll beat this thing!”
Instead, remind me to dwell
in the movements
of warrior trees in the winter wind,
and clouds like mountains
sailing past the window—
to dwell fully and absolutely in the one day
I know I have.
I suppose I’ve had enough of this world
and her various offerings,
should this cancer take me—
enough green veiled spring-times
with quizzical robins,
enough swelling, crashing oceans,
east and west,
enough molten sunsets
captured through the stained-glass window.
Enough sleepless nights,
thrashing and sweating with self-doubt,
enough news of war,
cruelty, degradation and desperation,
enough personal experience with loss and death.
A small dog nestles into the crook of my knee—
she’s wiser than me—
and I realize afresh
that I’m not quite ready
to leave just yet.
Ovarian Cancer, Stage IIIC
A woman is firmly chopping a carrot on the diagonal—
a technique her mother once termed “elegant.”
Still, she feels bad
because the carrot is technically alive,
or had the ability to spring back to life
were she not throwing it into boiling water.
The woman has a nasty cancer
that gives her a 46% chance
of surviving five years,
Cancer has made her humble,
for every last gift and kindness shown her,
for every single moment alive in her tiny, gem-like home.
“I’ll miss all this!”
the cooking of simple dinners, the watching of sunsets,
of birds and squirrels in her own backyard,
the reading of papers on the couch with her dogs, cat and mate.
And then she remembers
that you can’t miss things
when you’re dead,
and resolves at that moment
to be that much more alive.
Karen Friedland is the author of two books of poems, Places That Are Gone and Tales from the Teacup Palace. You can check them out below. Enjoy.
Some of Karen Friedland’s poems are in the magazine links below. Explore and enjoy.