As some of you may know, the first article that I wrote for the Newswire was about my Uncle Joe. I wrote about how he dealt with dying from glioblastoma. Instead of focusing on the” Dying with Dignity” side of the debate, he put forth his own idea: living with quality. And Joe did live with quality, right through the very end. Joe passed away last Thursday in the comfort of hospice care. At the time of his passing, his brothers and sisters were all gathered together miles away, hand in hand, saying a prayer for him before having dinner. While this may seem to be completely unrelated, it makes sense that the people who were with him throughout his life, watching him grow up to be the man he was, were there to help usher him into the inevitable conclusion to life.
Joe was not the type of person to rush things, or even show up at the correct time. Instead, the correct time for him was when he was ready and had completed what he had set out to do. This was evident throughout his life, but especially in the end, when “14 months tops” turned into two and a half years, and a final 48 hours turned into two weeks. His book, Too Much Fun Dying to Stop Now, encapsulates this. He is not prolonging his life because he is afraid of death and what his cancer will do to him, but because he is having too much fun in the present, living life to its fullest, to stop now. He wanted to make sure all could say their goodbyes as they wanted and that he could leave as he wanted, peacefully.
Regret, grief and anger are normal outcomes when someone dies so young. We are filled with regret because we might not have known them as well as we would have liked, grief because someone we love is leaving forever, and anger because it is just not fair that they are dying so young. These are all natural reactions, and there is one way to deal with them: acceptance. Normally, those feelings are thought to be evil emotions that should be expunged, removed as quickly as possible. Instead, Joe was of the belief that we need to understand and accept these emotions, as they are necessary parts of the human condition. He believed that these emotions should wash over you whenever possible, and when they did, that the love and safety of friends and family would keep you from drowning.
This was evident at Joe’s funeral. The room in which the ceremony took place was packed to legal capacity, and the hallways and rooms around it were flooded with people who came in support. At the end of the ceremony, everyone gathered together in a circle and sung “Hallelujah,” by Leonard Cohen. Tears flowed easily down faces, but the physical and emotional support was there as we held one another and sang. The ceremony was just like Joe in how different it was. Readings of varied philosophical texts rang through the hall, interpolated between renditions of Grateful Dead and The Beatles songs, sung by his friends and family. The only thing about the ceremony that was not like him was that it actually started on time.
Joe was no stranger to death, having lost his wife Becky to cancer years before. He knew what it was like to lose someone close to you and what was needed to help. The ceremony encapsulated his spirit because while it was in honor and memory of him, it helped everyone present, physically or in spirit, gain the support to stand strong with one another. He helps show us how emotions should not be feared, but embraced, no matter how scary they may seem.
James Neyer is a junior Honors Bachelor of Arts major from Cincinnati.