THE moving and powerful words of a County Limerick man whose sister died from cancer three months ago will resonate with everyone who has lost a loved one from the disease.
James Geary, from Tullaha, Broadford, wrote a piece entitled “Any day you die is not a good day” after losing Jo, aged 44.
He explores in his prose her battle with cancer, the heartbreak of watching the illness take hold, the platitudes casually tossed around and the all-consuming grief.
After burying Jo in August , James, who runs a website called Readers Writers, says the cold, hard facts are that someone you know will get cancer.
“It’s just a sad fact of life. Be it a family member, relation, friend or someone you know of. Someone in your world will get cancer. The only thing that you can wish for is that it isn’t your doorbell that’s ringing.
“Cancer is a horrible, horrible disease. It eats away at the cancer sufferer until eventually there is nothing left. Cancer has no dignity. It is an equal rights killer. It attacks people from all walks of life, and reduces them to dust. My sister was 44 years old when she died. 44,” writes James, of his sibling who worked as a solicitor for Nolan Farrell Goff in Waterford.
A strong-willed, and stoic lady, cancer ravaged her body as she endeavoured to remain upbeat.
Once you have lost a loved one to cancer, you realise how awkward a situation it is for someone on the outside to understand, says James.
“First things first. No day you die is a ‘happy day’. Having watched her battle from pitch side, the one thing my sister wanted more than anything was time. A simple request, and one that went both ways as all we wanted was more time with her. She had so many plans, and so little time. And that’s all we wanted for her. Time. More time. But more is never enough.
“I used to utter the ‘a happy day’ mantra myself before, but not now. A family who lose a loved one won’t appreciate the happiness of the loss of someone they never wanted to lose, no matter what the pain endured. For a cancer sufferer, pain equals time.”
Another emotive platitude he heard was that Jo had “gone to a better place”.
“There is no better place than home. For the sufferer or their family. Where do you think they would prefer to be? At home trumps death every time.
“People mean well, and I have uttered every sentence that I now scoff at prior to Jo’s illness. I truly believed that people suffering would welcome death. An end to their struggles. I now know that to be wrong.”
One of the things that broke James’ heart concerning Jo’s illness was his helplessness. He would have done anything for her but there was nothing he could do as he didn’t have the cure.
The one thing Jo craved was normality - all of the gossip and usual banter. She fought the ultimate fight to the very end, and wanted to live so badly.
“It was horrendous to watch someone die when all they want to do is live. Even her last 24 hours on earth she spent fighting to stay alive. The people who mattered most to her got to tell her how wonderful she was, and how we loved her.” Those people were parents Jim and Mary, brothers David and James, sister Máire Goode, extended family and wide circle of colleagues and friends.
Terminal cancer is a double-edged sword.
“It not only takes the sufferer’s life, it leaves a huge void for the family and friends left behind. No parent should bury their child. We have all lost something. Jo her life; my parents their daughter; my brother and sister a sister; her nieces and nephews an aunt; and her friends a friend.
“Time will heal, but we will never heal fully. From once Jo was diagnosed, everything changed and life will never return to normality. It’s how we deal with the ‘new’ normality that will define our future happiness.
“Life continues no matter how much we’d like it to stop for a brief moment. There’s that word again. Time.”
James’ piece can be read in full at www.readerswriters.ie