The high school where I work, and where my son attends, had an event last week where all the classes play games against each other to be declared the victor. They are silly games, fun to watch: obstacle courses, dizzy frolics, crab walks, etc. It is the event of the year, and many people from surrounding middle schools bring their families to watch, and then they decide to send their children to our school after watching this raucous display of good sportsmanship and school pride. Rightly so, I should add: I work at the best high school in Sacramento.
I go every year and love the kids' joy at being young and having all life right in front of them, and competing at something that doesn't matter at all yet matters so very much at the time.
I had a shirt with "judge" on it although I wasn't really judging, and I sat in the staff/judges section. I had been asked to save spots for people on the floor so I did - put my purse to the left and my coat to the right. The stands filled up - thousands of kids and families there.
But, my coworkers never came so I was all alone with several feet on each side of me in a sea of people jammed next to each other, screaming, chanting for their class, for their kid. As I watched, isolated, I dissolved out of the picture. I saw the teachers I work with every day, I watched the kids, I heard the screaming but it was all a bit unreal and as if I was in a mist, a sort of out-of-body experience. I was watching but I wasn't there. I knew that next year, this event would go on exactly like it has for 30 years, and the only difference is I may not be alive to see it. Would anybody notice? Would anybody think of me? I saw them blowing whistles, judging events, laughing with each other, and I knew they wouldn't; I am dandilion seeds, blown into the wind. Gone. But, I looked up and there was my son on the highest rise in the back corner with friends, smiling and cheering. He would think of me. Would he be sad? Would he forget me for this one fun moment? Would he be remembering how much I enjoyed this event? I felt sorry for that motherless boy in the corner.
I do this more and more lately. I'll be sitting at my computer at the dining room table, and my son and husband will have a conversation in the other room, and I am not a part of it anyway, but in my thoughts, I'm really not a part. I'm already gone. I imagine them talking like this when I'm dead. Will they be having this desultory conversation about mundane things, exactly as before? Will they feel my loss or will it be normal? It's both a comforting and disturbing thought.
This is what having a terminal illness is like. You now see yourself as two people - the one fully present and enjoying life, at the same time, you are seeing things as if you will be gone. It's almost like having a split personality. You can enjoy the things you are doing, but out of the other eye, you picture the world without you.
Because, you know that life does go on.
It is very strange to be at a place and not there at the same time, but that is what is happening. You begin to feel alienated from other people. It's particularly so for most of us who still appear to be healthy. We are dying, yet we don't need to park in the handicapped zone; we don't look sick, we wait in line, we listen to people talk about their small aches and pains and petty problems, and we are standing behind them with this big huge secret.
Due to medical advancement, those with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer live healthier lives. It used to be that cancer took over and we died quickly. Now, we are able to beat it back for a year, for two, or five if we are lucky. But, there is no cure, and everybody eventually does die. This means this new generation of cancer patients must live in a strange kind of purgatory, our brains split between life and death.
It's an odd feeling to mourn your life while you are still living it.