Reality Bites and the Afterlife

My bff and I love the movie Reality Bites. Sometimes, I imagine us having this conversation; I am the Janeane Garofalo character talking about breast cancer:

Now, I know I am not alone – far from it. But the big BC is now something I think about every second of every day (whereas between the time of my BRCA2+ diagnosis and my DCIS diagnosis, I only thought about it once or twice a day). And, I have to disclose that I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately. I’m not worried that cancer is going to kill me – at least, not this current cancer. But I am very worried about 10-12 hours of anesthesia.

This morning, my therapist and I talked about death, my fear of not waking up from the 10+ hour surgery, and my conflict over signing a DNR. Six years ago, before my husband and son, I would have had no problems signing a DNR. I would have been much less nervous about not waking up from surgery; in fact, the thought would probably not have even entered my mind. Now, I’m not so sure I want to sign a DNR. I want the doctors to keep me alive – what if I wake up and can start having a life again with my son and husband?

I’m reminded of a friend who told me about a moment before her mother’s death. Her mother was about to undergo brain surgery for a tumor that was supposed to be fairly easily fixable. As they said good-bye to her as she was wheeled out on the bed to surgery, her mother began to cry and scream – she didn’t want to go. She was terrified. Sadly, it turned out she had a right to be so. She did not wake up from that surgery (although it had nothing to do with the anesthesia).

I can see her in my head screaming as she’s taken down the hall. My therapist said it was because she hadn’t accepted the idea of death. I can see myself like that in a hospital, crying and screaming like a lunatic. Because now, unlike six years ago, I have a lot to live for and I am terrified of never seeing my boys again. How do you accept death when you love your life? I imagine my friend’s mother felt the same way.

I also told him about my ER debacle last week. I’m worried that maybe something did happen to my heart or lungs that the doctors weren’t able to see, but it could affect me under anesthesia.

My therapist talked about accepting death and suggested we start talking about death and various ideas of the afterlife. He said that many people who have ‘died’ and been brought back relay the same experience – an overwhelming feeling of calm and love, being welcomed by loved ones already ‘there.’ I just don’t buy it though – I feel like I will spend the rest of my eternity sad and alone – there is no one ‘there’ who I’d rather be with than the people here! I said that I already know that my husband and son will be taken care of if I die – I’m not worried about them – I know they’ll be sad, but they will be fine. Really, I’m more worried about myself and how I will feel after dying – if that makes any sense – I will be so sad to leave this life.

Eventually, he asked what it would take, what would I need to know, in order to accept death as a possibility. I said that I would need to know that if it happens, if I die on that operating table, that I’m not stuck for the rest of my eternal days suffering from missing my child and husband. And unfortunately, I don’t think there’s anyone who can confirm that this will be the case.



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