During my Aunt Kathy’s last days, I came to know a woman different than the healthy woman of before: As cancer destroyed my Aunt Kathy’s body, her spirit became stronger and more vibrant. When my aunt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, she was given six months to live. With a serene look on her face, this is how she told me: “Nissa, in your sailing lingo, I believe you’d say I’ve tacked into rough waters.” She chuckled, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “I have about six months to live.” One month later she was gone. She was 54 years old. While she was dying, my aunt showed compassion to others; because of Kathy, I believe we have the opportunity to show our best when faced with the worst.
Kathy spent her last nights and days surrounded by friends and family. Her compassion helped those around her to cope with her rapidly advancing cancer. While in bed and in pain, she welcomed the throngs of people into her room. At times visitors would break down and begin to cry when they saw my aunt’s gaunt face and body. When this happened, Kathy would reach out and hold her friend, or co-worker, or neighbor, or family member’s hand and turn the conversation by asking the visitor something about what was going on in his or her life. Amazingly, Kathy knew—and still kept track of while doped up on morphine—who was entering college, who was getting married, who was getting a driver’s license, or who was celebrating a birthday. When she turned the conversation to the visitor, it seemed Kathy had been saving all this information to use at this exact moment. As she asked about her visitor’s life, she handed her friend a box of tissue, folded her now bony hands in her lap while leaning back onto her bed, smiled, and waited patiently to hear how everyone was doing. Every time this happened, the visitor seemed relieved to discuss a topic other than Kathy’s cancer, and would happily describe everything happening outside of the hospice—exactly where Kathy wanted to be.
We all know people who, if put in my aunt’s position, would love to complain endlessly about their fate. However, instead of dwelling on herself, Kathy wanted to hold on to life by hearing about, well, life. By taking the spotlight off of herself, Kathy made people feel more comfortable about her death. She also helped her family realize that life goes on—albeit more sadly—but life goes on. Seeing my aunt’s compassion toward other people has made me believe that when faced with the worst, Kathy showed her best.
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