In the face of so dire a diagnosis as is terminal brain cancer, would I be as stoic as the actress Valerie Harper appears to be? I don’t know. But does one really have any other choice?
Short of collapsing into utter depression and self-pity, it seems reasonable, hell, even necessary to maintaining sanity, for one to try and face imminent death squarely, dispassionately, with a measure of dignity, perhaps even arrogance, or just maybe both. How else could one possibly make the most of the little time left? And isn’t that what anyone would want to do?
I’m sure she has feelings of shock, sorrow, anger, bitterness and regret. So would we all. I can imagine she has bouts of tremendous anxiety, fear and uncertainty. So, too, would any of us. But overcoming these is what it means to be stoic. In this, there may be something helpful about the terrible certainty of it all. Once the end becomes known, I think it may give a certain freedom. After a lifetime of uncertainty about our tomorrows, there can be relief in knowing, relief that unburdens and steadies our final strides.
I don’t know what degree of faith she may have. I don’t know much about the quality of her relationships with family and friends. I don’t know what internal reserves of emotional or intellectual resources she may possess. But the fact is I’m not even completely sure of my own. None of us could be sure, really, until we’re presented with the need to draw on them. These are the sources of fortitude. And a great deal of fortitude is surely needed to confront dying.
I hope Valerie Harper has a deep well of those resources. And I wish her a gentle passage.