First, the similarities – oh, and if you have not read the book, stop reading this now, go get it (or download it) and read it and then come back to this blog post:
- It is autobiographical.
- It is about the ultimate existential question of life: How to prepare for death.
- It is will make you cry at times and laugh at others.
- It is a love story.
- It is about what life and love really means.
These are all things that The Actual Dance addresses. Now the differences:
- The story is told from the “patient” perspective, not the caregiver perspective.
- It has a tragic and sad ending, not the happy one in The Actual Dance
- The author not only touched death frequently in his patients, he was preparing for his own death, while my story is only how I felt about losing someone who in the end does not die.
I have never had to face my own mortality – a diagnosis of a fatal disease. Even when I had a near life-ending medical event – a Pulmonary Embolism—I did not understand what was happening so it never occurred to me I might die from that pain on my left side. So no, I do not know what it would feel like, and I have been warned that despite what I feared in terms of losing my wife Susan to breast cancer, until that time happens I cannot “know” what it is like to lose a spouse.
What I have faced and what I relate to so deeply in this book is the loss of people I loved. It has been those experiences piled on to my journey with Susan as she almost lost her life to breast cancer that has taught me the essential truth that is told in this book – the author refers to it as “[T]ruth” the capital “T”. It is that life’s only meaning is to live a life of meaning. Hearing this from not just a dying man, but one who was a brilliant scientist and neurosurgeon has let me settle just a little deeper into my own soul.
It happens that these have also been my words. Six years ago when I was asked to present one of the eulogies for a dear friend, an incredible icon of justice during his life, the only words I could come up then were: “[H]e taught us with his life the meaning of life --- to live a life of meaning.”
Paul Kalanithi in his amazing book has given me the gift of knowing more deeply that his is so.