Why Not Me?
I’ve been staring at my computer screen all afternoon trying to make sense of what’s been cycling through my head.
The question on a continuous loop is, “why not me?”
Last weekend I sat at the bedside of my sister-in-law who is dying of Stage 4 cancer. This insidious disease has ravaged her body bit by bit, day after day for 10 months. She was given the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer last July and here we are, praying for her as she shifts toward a peaceful transition.
When the opportunity presented itself for me to be alone with her, I held her hand trying hard not to let the droplets of tears fall from my eyes onto her delicate skin. I gazed upon her face and could see in her eyes the words she’s no longer able to express.
These are the same eyes that warmly looked at me during the depths of my addiction offering support I refused to acknowledge. I remember thinking she was judging me, silently scorning all the lies and secrets only I knew were being kept. Once again, a reflection of how addiction can cast such shadows over the truth.
As I sat quietly sat in her bedroom I thought about why, for the third time in four years I’d be witnessing how powerful the human body is in the fight to stay alive. The first was watching my father slip away in April of 2009. Then, seven months later, my brother. Being present for their final exhales were moments I will never forget and am grateful to have experienced. Yet in that room with my sister-in-law I didn’t feel grateful, I felt bewildered to once again be wondering, “why not me?”
My sister-in-law didn’t constantly make unhealthy choices once she knew of her cancer diagnosis. She didn’t lie about her disease. She didn’t try to deny the recommended course of action to take toward healing. She didn’t try to manipulate others (and herself) into believing her disease didn’t exist. She didn’t deny anyone’s expression of support.
She didn’t do any of that. But I certainly did.
Long before admitting to having the disease of alcoholism and a few years later being diagnosed with the disease of anorexia, I knew I had both. I was obsessed with the idea of being just drunk enough to feel at ease while watching the numbers drop on our bathroom scale.
I made constant unhealthy choices of how to treat my body. I lied about my addictions. I denied the suggestions I was drinking too much and appearing unhealthy. I manipulated everyone and every possible situation imaginable. I tried hard to disregard the truth about how I was disrespecting myself and those around me who tried to offer support.
So why did I survive stepping up to death’s door not once but twice? Why, after all I did to disrespect my health, my family, my friends and (mostly) myself am I still here? Why, after everything I did to play that game of Russian roulette with my life, am I still alive?
When I’ve expressed my curiosity about these things, many others have offered kind and loving responses centering on the fact my experience in recovery might be helpful for another struggling woman to hear. While I agree and am very grateful for the opportunity to do that whenever I can, this does not negate the fact my sister-in-law has an equally powerful story others may find comforting and healing too.
What makes my story any better than hers? What makes what I’ve experienced any more important or profound to share? The answer to both these questions, as far as I’m concerned is nothing, absolutely nothing.
She struggled with the truth as I did. She was resistant to hearing the name of her disease as I was. She tried to make sense of what she couldn’t just as I did. She fought hard and so have I. She is profoundly loved as I believe I am.
These are the thoughts I’ve struggled with over the last few days.
This is why I began writing because I’ve taught myself I’m able to gain perspective when I do. Once again the lesson was well learned. In just the time I’ve taken to type this blog post I’m realizing my sister-in-law’s message of hope will not end when her body finally rests. Her story will live on through the shared experiences of her children and her husband. They will be the ones to carry her message.
I will know they are speaking the words she wants someone to hear simply by looking into their eyes. They will hold the silent smile she now carries as she moves softly, gently and peacefully into allowing her spirit to soar.
In her honor and for all those who have passed before me, I acknowledge the privilege of life I’ve been so graciously given and will continue to offer my heart, my hand and my practical experience to someone who seeks to find their own sense of peace.
Alison, What a beautiful and loving testimony to your sister-in-law, who sounds like a remarkable, courageous and other-centered woman . . . much like you! I’m afraid none of us are blessed with the insight to “answer” the questions you’ve posited in this post, though someday I suspect (and hope) they will be made clear(er) to us. In the meantime, I will continue to pray for your sister-in-law and her family – and to give thanks for you and your life and the difference you’ve made in mine. Don