It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period…Charles Dickens – Tale of Two Cities
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. For our family and friends, the last half year has been every bit as Dickensque as you can imagine. A Darling Aunty dying from brain tumour, a child (post-liver transplant) suffering from relapse of bile duct narrowing. Princess of the House (our daughter Julia) spent 8 weeks in hospital sorting out her bile duct problems. She still wears a tube, hanging from the top of her belly like a weird extension (in case the surgeons need access).
This April just past was the worst of times for us. Darling Aunty got diagnosed with brain cancer. This June past, was the worst of times, Princess of the House got very sick. The worst of times because for the longest time in these very sultry winter months, the doctors were looking for clues of whether Princess of the House was having a relapse of her childhood cancer. We had a heavy block dropped off our backs on Monday results from a PET scan in Melbourne showed all is well on the cancer front for Princess.
What the last 5 months-plus has taught me is that the worst of times, can also be the best of times. It was the best of times because I have seen much greatness and professionalism among our care gives (read Liver Transplant nurses, nurses at Ward 25A, the mostly-bald headed Gastroenterology guys at Starship Hospital (well pardon me, including one impeccably dressed lady consultant with accessories to die for); Northern Hospital School teachers – hear the gong folks!).
It was the best of times because we learnt that humans cope despite great adversities. We wake in the morning, hoping it will be a better day, that the sun will still rise as it surely does. We wake up knowing our friends and family are there for us. We wake up hoping the Boffins and their friends (read people of science) may have some answers for us; that we will be one step closer to the end of the dark tunnel, closer to some answers.
The answers may not be what we desire to hear. Our Darling Aunty has been given months to live. We enter the realm of incredulity, the season of darkness; we sink into the winter of despair.
But these can be the best of times for us – because we learn to grow as humans, to see this as the time to seize the day, to live life with no regrets, to show kindness; to exercise compassion, to learn tolerance as a way of life, and say the prayers we never seem to find it easy to say. This is the time to feel the frailty of human life.
These can be the best of times as we learn to greet death in its gruesome face with as much surety as we greet the transcendence of the beautiful rising sun. That because instinctively we seek to live, we surely also, must by the same logic, have to seek to let go when that time comes.
There is a certain cartoon character – a pudgy blue robot cat which speaks with a mechanical human voice called Doraemon (Pico Iyer's version of the cat) – which I love. Doraemon always has a solution, something he can pull out of his magical pouch. Miraculous feats happen in Doraemon’s presence. Pipping hot ramen in bowls for Nobita and his friends atop a gigantic tree with vistas as wide as the eyes can see. How I wish Doraemon could produce a magical pill for Darling Aunty.
However, there is nothing magical to be found by way of how science takes it own pace to develop – not fast enough for Darling Aunty, I am afraid.
Season of light
So as surely as one accepts the rising sun must set, the time must come when we will have to let death come into our doors. For in dying, there is new life. In new life, springs the shoots that gives hope.
For now, for those who are grieving, our singular most important lesson must be that what keeps our daily life much more bearable is that spring of hope – that tomorrow will be a brighter day. That once we learn to let go gently, at our own pace - tomorrow, yesterday, the day before, last year and all of days, need not be the winter of our despair, but the season of new light.