Life: good to the last breath

The previous post, which spoke about my father’s death, was painful for me to write and couldn’t have been easy to read either. As creatures who love and feel deeply, we will each encounter the hurt of separation from those we care about.

Even though my father was unable to share and articulate his own feelings at the end of his life, I still learned much by observing the manner in which he passed. There was a good deal about the way Ollie lived that I admired, yet I absolutely did not want to die as he had:  unprepared, afraid, angry and alone in his head with so much left unresolved.

I vowed that it would be different for me. The fact that I had lung cancer was out of my control, but how I chose to respond to my situation was very much of my own choosing. I didn’t want to be afraid, and I began to learn as much as I could about my cancer. I reasoned that if I knew what to possibly expect, not only could I make better choices (in regard to treatment and how I wished to spend my precious time), but I could minimize a huge component of fear:  the unknown.

I wanted to be as strong as possible for what lay ahead, so I started physical therapy and counseling and began taking an antidepressant.

Next on my list was tidying up and fixing those things in my life that felt messy and broken. My relationships to family and friends were all approached with a new perspective. I initiated the long (and ongoing) process of ordering my physical environment; my surroundings but also the way in which I approached tasks. I began to implement the order that I had always craved but found so elusive as my life became more complicated (all those grown-up responsibilities).

And, slowly, I reached back into and began to honor my creative core.

I am lucky that I’ve had some years to follow through with my plan. Part of what was so particularly brutal for my father was the speed with which his illness advanced. I too floundered initially, but was given a second chance in the ring.

The photos are from the session I had with Sadie near the end of September in 2005. It was several weeks out from my father’s diagnosis as well as my first ‘dirty’ scan post chemo. Death was much on my mind. I asked Sadie if she would photograph me with my eyes shut so that I could see what I would look like when I was dead. I was absolutely serious, but it was also difficult to keep a straight face.  Some weeks later, Sadie presented me with this framed copy from the session; I call it ‘happy dead’.

Anyway, on that note I will end with a wonderful quote attributed to Josephine Baker…

“To live is to dance. I would like to die, breathless, spent, at the end of a dance.”

10 responses to “Life: good to the last breath

  1. Pat & Will Plattner

    That quote just says it all. bless you, dear Linnea.

  2. Michelle Schupmann


    You continue to inspire and impress me with the grace and purpose that shape your life. You have such a cool, rich life! I love reading about it, about your children and their passions, and everything else you lay out so eloquently on your blog. Keep on keeping on; I look forward to reading “life and breath” for many years.

    • Michelle, keeping on is one of my personal mantras for sure. And it is with pleasure that I share these experiences; I am much gratified that there is an audience. And if I keep writing and you keep reading…well, sounds like a foolproof plan for sustainability. Linnea

  3. Linnea your posts painful or happy are always a pleasure to read.
    People don’t want to say goodbye, see you later is preferred, letting go is too hard.
    I talk with my wife a lot and with my daughters a bit, nobody is ready.
    Is really simple, the one’s than can, do, the one’s that can’t, don’t.
    I flew to Argentina when my mother at 90 was dying, in the hospital we talked, she wanted to go back home, did not talk about dead, she enjoyed talking about her young son living in Canada, such a good boy. She didn’t realise that was me, in person but not young, talking with her and saying goodbye. I didn’t cry until one year latter listening to music by the Chieftains CD Santiago, my mother was Celt from Galicia Spain, they play the bagpipes like the Irish celts, the CD starts with basque music from my father region. Happy music brought old memories and made me very sad you know about The Alamo, but what do you know about the Irish in Mexico during that war?
    My mother went home, my father did not believe that she was dying and was very shock a couple of month latter. It was spring time here, fall there, so I invited him to my house and he expend three month in Toronto, crying every day. We had time to talk, he told me to enjoy more every day and don’t be too strict with my daughters. In their teens there was a big generation-cultural gap for them.
    Three years latter he was 90, I called him for the last time after Christmas, he wanted to see the new year 2000 millennium but he died of stroke on December 30th, missed by one day, 3 weeks short of his 91st birsthday.
    I went sailing the Caribbean for 2 months in Bambola quatre

    Toronto International Film Festival started in Toronto, front page news is TIFF and cancer
    Blog: She is a young and beautiful movie start from Toronto, my town, her goal now is to live well to Linnea’s age. Enjoy. her amazing movie Water her blog

    An other movie that I enjoyed and understand more now overdue as 72 years old, on my 5 year cancer anniversary.
    So many movies, so little time.

    In a remote village, all people are banished to the top of Mount Nara to die when they reach the age of 70
    Imamura, the director, gets this message across with such unflinching bluntness and honesty that it forces you to face some harsh realities you may not want to face. But ultimately, like Tatsuhei, the protagonist, eventually figures out, you’d be better off if you did.

    and why my wife is depress, my dog is depress and I am depress and negative. My test for ALK mutation is negative, no hope there, I was not given a cheap test for EGFR and was put on expensive Tarceva, that works for positives for 2 months, the consequences are a real disaster. In 3 months I lost 20 pounds, 7 last week, I have nerve damage on my right torso affecting my right arm, I write in pain and covered with a towel drench in cold sweat mainly in the right side. I don’t trust my Onc now. She gave me the option of doing more in smaller doses or surgery cutting the nerves that control sweating. Euthanasia is not an option in Canada.

    Linnea I’m still alive! Josephine use to dance toples and dressed with feathers and bananas in Paris, a tango with her, avoiding banana peels, for me is a good way to let go bad to the last breath!

    • Guillermo, you really are still alive (and as full of life as ever)! I am sorry that you must now contend with pain, but relieved that the nerves in your brain seem unaffected.
      Your reply is, per usual, a work of art, with many diversionary paths for the curious traveler. Thank you for sharing, and perhaps if you teach your dog to dance it will be an antidote for depression. Linnea

  4. Linnea!

    Only you would dream of taking “Happy Dead” photos! Your strength never ceases to amaze me!!! That said….you are a crazy girl!!!



  5. Hi Linnea- I have been following your journey as I travel the same one with my husband- he is 16 months out from a stage IV adenocarcinoma LC diagnosis. He started progressing again in July 2010 after chemo, radiation, and a 8-9 month run on Tarceva. We are starting on a 4th line therapy tomorrow. We have taken the same tack you have taken- while he is not an “artist” per se, he is a craftsman who cares very much about order and beauty, and during these past months we have spent much time outdoors, chasing leaves, wienerschnitzel, wine, hiking trails, beaches, and our own (grown) kids. Sounds familiar. What is also familiar is that thirst for life that drives all of us. I was moved by your post about your dad- I lost mine in a similar fashion, but with an unspoken understanding beyond which I had expected little. Sometimes “unspoken” is all we get, but it can be enough. You are still speaking, and with much power, and you are reaching many.

    I believe you have much in common with my dear husband, in that both of you continue to defy the odds and live well, with great intention and absorption. This is a most a powerful hedge against our limited time together.

    I also believe that you will do well for a very long time to come.
    All the best to you-

    • Joan, I always loved the Talking Heads song Stay Hungry. Stay thirsty is apropos as well. As long as we fill our lives with that which needs to constantly be renewed (consumed and used daily!); love, experience, good food, we are alive in the fullest sense.
      Best of luck on that 4th line. In the meantime, it sounds as if each day is rich for your family. I wish you continued wealth. Linnea

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