My friend Jackie is living in Istanbul while she is getting treatment for cancer. Treatment that The Cleveland Clinic and its “every life deserves world-class care” attitude cannot give her. I am very critical of the health system in the US. Why shouldn’t I be? Hospitals answer to pharmaceutical and insurance companies. I drove down Lakeshore Drive in Chicago this weekend and glanced at the skyline to see large insurance company names on the top of most of the buildings.
Jackie and I blog often about our experiences. She writes of her experiences fighting cancer in a foreign land, away from her kids. Her latest blog, https://jackieacho.com/i-am-still-that-girl-integrating-our-lives/, tells so much about her positivity and grace. While fighting this vicious, unforgiving beast, she takes respite at an Asian market (and region of Istanbul). Sights, smells, and sounds unearth memories from her childhood. She is able to relate her experiences to those in the past to reveal that, despite circumstances, she’s “still that girl!”
Maybe it’s narcissism or my deep need to internalize everything, but I asked myself one question: Am I still that boy? Better yet, am I still the 45-year-old man I was before Jacob got sick? Life was good. Jacob was attacking life. Ana was finding her footing. Naomi and I were relatively stress free. I felt pretty damn good. Then, fucking cancer followed by two years of suffering. Through it, Jacob showed his spirit. We all rallied. Collectively, Team Butze showed grit.
That “grit” has faded since Jacob died. I am lost. I’ve done countless hours of therapy, exercise routines, and improved my eating. I write and communicate my feelings. Work has suffered. Relationships aren’t what they once were. Living in the moment is nearly impossible. I couldn’t care less about most things. Yes, the important shit holds weight. I love and care about my family. In the past 16 months, I’m numb.
Anger and numbness have replaced faith. I am searching for Brandt. Jacob’s wish was for us to be happy. He wanted Ana to thrive. He wanted Naomi to not be anxious. He wanted me to lose weight and not live in regret. He would be furious to know the effect his death has had on me. I am paralyzed in sadness and inaction. I am cloaked in regret at times. My once accepting nature has turned to bitterness.
So, how do I change? How do I rediscover my former joys? I don’t know. Jacob died less than 16 months ago. Pragmatically, I know this is a short amount of time. This will take time. My fear, however, is how good will it ever get? Will I ever be able to catch a scent and be transported to an easier time?
Jackie writes, “On a day like today, I can feel a certain integration across life, even with all of the physical and emotional trauma of the last 2 years.” She writes of life being nonlinear. Two things are correct in her statement:
- She is fighting cancer and has a week of chemo upcoming
- AND…..In this moment, she is traveler, soaking up the day despite physical trauma
This duality is what I am learning to understand. I can be happy and sad. I can feel grief and enjoy the sunshine upon my face. This makes sense on a practical level. I am finding it difficult to apply this reality. Jacob, Jackie, and my friend Max have a rare strength. Cancer may link them by circumstance but it’s more than that. They are fucking strong people who can taste life’s sweet nectar in a gray, muddled, uncertain time.
I am going to make small changes today and search for a glimpse of my former self. He’s there somewhere.