Over on the Guardian’s Comment is Free, Mike Marquusee has a very thought-provoking article entitled “How do we talk about cancer?”
It has prompted me to write here about an experience which has profoundly and positively changed my outlook on life, death and cancer.
Unlike Mike, I am not a cancer sufferer, so I cannot speak from that experience. But we have just lost my sister, Eliza Lucking, through cancer.
are were nine in my immediate family, including my parents. – A big baby boomer family, taking its post-war repopulation duties very seriously indeed. My five brothers are older than me, ranging up to 65 years old and my parents are in their late eighties. My sister Eliza was the youngest of the family and the only female offspring, subject to much rejoicing when she arrived on Lady Day and was regaled with the name “Eliza Mary Teresa”.
In that situation, you don’t ever expect the youngest to go first.
So, it’s been a profound shock to lose the youngest in the family, while the rest of us older ones still bound along. Losing the only girl in the family puts an extra bit of heartache on the event.
Losing the caring, loving, down-to-earth, funny, self-effacing, extraordinary power house of positive energy that was Eliza makes it an even bigger blow.
One thought occurs concerning language. Forget about the old cliché: “brave fight against cancer”. That’s utter nonsense. That implies that Eliza has lost a battle now she’s passed on. Eliza never lost anything in her life and she certainly didn’t lose anything when she died. In her illness and passing she was an absolute inspiration to all around her. She went with extraordinary grace and serenity, being totally ready. She was totally positive and upbeat at every stage. There was always another thing to do. No time for maudlin thoughts. Her catchphrase was:
We just have to get on with it.
In every sense her death was a victory. A victory of positive thoughts – a victory of accepting that we all have a tombola ticket in life and when that ticket is called, there is nothing we can do it about it and the only way to behave is to accept it philosophically and “just get on with it”.