Someone once told me, during the initial phases of my emotional struggle to cope with my disease, that having a terminal disease was like sitting in a room with an 800-pound gorilla. Permit me to tell you how that whole concept works.
Throughout all of this, there are good days and bad. I am extremely grateful that the bad days are all just in my head (bare with me) and that there is no pain, and that on the good days I can mow the lawn, change my oil, build a new dinning room table and even muster up the gumption to walk the dogs. I am also thankful that the good days far outnumber the bad. On those “bad days”, the gorilla gets the upper hand. These are the days when I begin to wonder what will happen when I am gone. How will Sarah and the kids deal with my loss from one day to the next? Who will fix the leaky faucet, the broken switch on the fan, or replace the faulty outlet in the wall? Then it all becomes too much and I go to the bedroom and lie down and feel the press of all my worries bearing down on my chest and suddenly the world becomes very small…
Now on most days the gorilla is content to sit in the corner on his bed of palm fronds peeling bananas and watching Gilligans Island reruns. But, on the bad days, as I lie on the bed I can hear him slowly standing up. He senses my fear and knows that I am weak. He takes a tentative step forward on squatty legs, sniffs the air and I swear he smiles… just a bit. He stands up to his full height, stretches his arms out and cups his massive hands. His arms bend at the elbows and he begins to beat furiously on his chest, and I grow more scared. I begin to think that maybe it would be best to just lay there and let the gorilla win. All of my worries would end and no one would have to worry for me anymore either. So many people say after the loss of a loved one: “They’re in a better place.” So why then do we adhere to the mantra that we must fight to live? If I am going to a better place, why not just give in to the disease and just go?
At about this point one of two things happens. Either I remember the words of a wise friend who told me “Don’t do this for you, do it for me, for Sarah and the kids.” Or Sarah senses that I am having a bad day and she comes to my side and gives me the strength I need. The strength to fight the good fight! We talk it out, express our fears, our worries and our desires for the future. We give hope a voice in the darkest of hours and it is like a switch is turned on somewhere in the recesses of my soul. And I begin to rise… The thunderous beating starts to slow then diminish all together. There is this very quizzical yet oh so simian look on the gorillas face, as if he was thinking “OH shit!” and he retreats just a half step. I get off the bed and stand, a little uncertain at first (after all, he IS an 800 pound gorilla!) but then I feel the love and prayers of all the people that care so much about me and my family and my strength and confidence starts to grow by leaps and bounds! I stretch and rise to my full height and I tower over the ape that roars his disapproval of my newfound vigor, but to no avail. I will not be stopped!
I reach up into the tree and break a branch off and point it at him in defiance. One eye sort of squints as if I was aiming my power at him through the makeshift club. I then stretch my arms wide, squat my legs just a bit, throw back my head and fill my lungs until they feel as if they are going to burst they are so full of air and I scream!!! The sort of primal scream that says “I am here to stay for a very, very long time… get comfortable in your corner gorilla because that is where you’re going to stay!”
That is how it goes during the bad days… so remember, when you read that inspirational quote, when you see that picture of something so funny that milk comes out of your nose, or when you get a link to a video of some idiot doing something incredibly dumb with his brand new Ferrari and you laugh so hard that tears roll down your cheeks, send it on to a friend. You never know, they might be dealing with an 800 pound gorilla themselves… And when you think of that relative or friend that you have not heard from in a very long time and you start to worry, they are only a phone call away and your voice and your words of encouragement may just be what they need to hear to help them put their ape in HIS place… so call, email or write.
Now if you are the one dealing with the 800-pound gorilla, make sure to keep a generous supply of bananas on hand and always leave the TV in your room tuned to Gilligans Island reruns. If you can’t keep him in his place, at least keep him distracted until help arrives and remember, it’s ok to ask for help. Besides, you can’t very bloody well carry his dead carcass out of the house by yourself now can you?
May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be ever at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face
And the rain fall softly on your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.
All my love and extra bananas,