Updated: Nov 26, 2022
When someone is given a terminal diagnosis, with a life expectancy of six months or less to live, they find themselves with questions that no one knows the answers to. And while you are feeling helpless, and a few shades of useless, because you cannot answer them, you realize that the person asking the question was just told they were going to die… you can’t compare your discomfort to theirs… and yet you still feel the need to try and find a way to give them the answers that can help them navigate whatever time they might have left.
But how do you help someone understand or accept that their time has suddenly been cut short? How can you explain why they were chosen over someone else, and were they even chosen? Does that make sense? Was it fate? Was it a shortest stick wins the bad news kind of thing? I mean… isn’t that how it feels? How can you comfort them? How can you help them to wrap themselves around this news? And when they ask you “why me?” what do you say?
I have been asked why they had to go so fast, and even why they were taking so long.
I have been asked why they couldn’t have more time.
I have been asked why this was happening to them.
I have been asked “why?” too many times to count, and I never have the answer.
I was at the bedside of a man who hadn’t turned 50 yet. He had a daughter, but their relationship was estranged for most of her life, and they only just reconnected… because he was sick. She looked at me with quarter sized eyes and asked me why him, why were they not given more time, why can’t he get better… and the hardest one… why can’t you fix him?
What I have come to realize is that there is no real answer to the why, and there is nothing I can possibly say that would or could change the circumstances of everything that was happening at the time the questions were being asked. Life happens, and then death happens and in between is the space where memories are made, so it reminds us to make the very best of that time. Sometimes we are reminded too late. And when a diagnosis is given, or a life is cut short, the questions we need to ask are, did we live our life well, did we make lasting memories, do the people in our lives know just how loved they are?
The “why” will forever be a mystery.
I saw this quote once, “The hardest thing about "everything happens for a reason" is waiting for that reason to show up.” That reason isn’t going to show up, especially relative to why one person dies and another lives, or why one is given a terminal diagnosis, and another lives 40 more years. I know one thing for sure, it isn’t necessarily always about the life you lived, how well you ate or cared for yourself, or what choices you might have made along the way. Death isn't usually handed out based on the life you lived… it just happens, it is oftentimes unpredictable, and it is a mystery.
The best thing we can do, is to not wait for something to happen to remind us how precious and fragile life is. And instead of asking why, and trying to rationalize something that cannot be rationalized, ask instead what you (we) can do to make whatever time is left, the very best it can be. And make each day a bonus day.
Why? I don't know why... Life can be so unfair sometimes, and we lose people we love and that doesn't make a damn bit of sense. But we also get to fall in love, we feel amazing things that are beautiful, we have relationships, we have lovers, we have family and we have friends... and we get to experience magic and wonder... why do we get to have that as well? Perhaps the lesson here is that there is no answer to the why, there is simply "it is what it is" ... so let's make the best of it.