A letter to a dying man

“Even the strong show signs of fatigue.” Friedrich Nietzsche

by M on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 9:08pm ·
My brother said this to me once. At the moment, I have a deep and un-abiding understanding of it. The frequency with which I have been hospitalized has bogged me down. The grinding nature of it. Never really knowing when I’ll be home or for how long. Although I am not broken, I am definitely bent. Even with the context of other patients doing worse, it still beats you down.  You lose your steam.
The process of building your steam takes time. A few choice words, an extra few minutes on the treadmill, and the pilot light engages. You no longer think you can, you know you can. The pilot light catches and the flames start. The self-pity  burns away and what’s left is your desire. In my case, desire to live.  It is in the depths of our human experience; the foundry, where emotional horsepower is built. Our emotions evolved to make us greater than we think we can be.  Emotional horsepower is how people walk on broken legs and fight with broken hands. Emotional horsepower is an engine. If you want to increase power, you have to bore bigger holes to accommodate bigger pistons. It’s this hollowing out that hurts. When it’s finished, you are left with these large holes. You can fill them with anger. You can fill them with despair. Or, you can fill them with fire. You can fill them with love. You can fill them with understanding.  Opportunities to increase our emotional horse power are all around us. It is a question of how bad are you willing to hurt.

Dear M,

You probably will never see this letter, but I have to write it anyway.  I wonder if you’ll know how many people are praying for you, how many people you’ve inspired with your challenges.

Today you are lying in a hospital bed, your fourth week in a medically-induced coma after you contracted pneumonia.  For a healthy individual, that wouldn’t have been so bad.  But after having your second round of leukemia, and the second stem-cell transplant, the doctors felt it was the only way to keep you safe.

J and I got the news last night that the most recent biopsy shows the leukemia came back.  I was laying down with my daughters before bedtime and I was grateful for the darkness and their sleepiness, so the tears could fall quietly.

Your doctors have said this is the beginning of the end of your journey and they will do everything possible to ease your way.  Your parents are heartbroken.  They wrote

We cannot bear to see this sweet child suffer any more than he has.

I know you are 40, no longer a ‘child’…but I do agree very much on the sweet part.  You’ve been an amazing inspiration to all who knew you.    None of us wants to see you suffer any more than you already have.  And if we can’t have you back completely healed…we know that it’s better that you move on to the next realm.

I have heard that death is not as hard on the dying as it is on the living.  I can believe it.

I also wonder about the timing of this.

Today, I heard from my mother that she was diagnosed with a melanoma.  Soon, they’ll have to remove more tissue and test her lymph nodes to see if it spread.

Do you think this is a coincidence?  I don’t.   And, if the old saying goes “Bad things happens in threes” (and it has held true in my life), I wonder when the next one will happen…and to whom.

Maybe it already has, and I just don’t know it.  I haven’t heard from another dear friend of mine.  I have a bad feeling about that.

Maybe it was my sister’s car accident last week.  She’s okay, but has a fractured hand.

Or maybe it’s still coming.

As much as I wish I can pray, “Please God, don’t take any more people away from me,” (because my social circle had dwindled quite a lot over the years due to death and life taking us in different directions),  I know that’s rather futile.  If my spiritual journey has taught me anything over the past few years…it’s that 1) everything is temporary and 2) death doesn’t have to mean the end of a relationship to someone.  It ends the physical connection, but doesn’t have to mean the end of an emotional connection.

Whomever we encounter in our path can shape us in sometimes very profound ways.  Have you heard about that poem about the kinds of people who comes into our lives?

A Reason, a Season, or a Lifetime

People come into your life for a reason, a season, or
a lifetime. When you figure out which one it is, you
will know what to do for each person.

When someone is in your life for a REASON . . . It is
usually to meet a need you have expressed. They have
come to assist you through a difficulty, to provide you
with guidance and support, to aid you physically,
emotionally, or spiritually. They may seem like a
godsend, and they are! They are there for the reason
you need them to be.

Then, without any wrong doing on your part, or at an
inconvenient time, this person will say or do something
to bring the relationship to an end.

Sometimes they die.
Sometimes they walk away.
Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand.

What we must realize is that our need has been met, our
desire fulfilled, their work is done. The prayer you
sent up has been answered. And now it is time to move on.

When people come into your life for a SEASON . . .
Because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn.
They bring you an experience of peace, or make you laugh.
They may teach you something you have never done.
They usually give you an unbelievable amount
of joy. Believe it! It is real! But, only for a season.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons; things
you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional
foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the
person, and put what you have learned to use in all
other relationships and areas of your life. It is said
that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.

Author Unknown

Yeah, as beautiful as that sentiment is, I almost dislike that poem.  Because I’m still not good at accepting loss.  I never have been.  Even though we carry pieces of the people who’ve touched our lives in our hearts, which helps some.  But sometimes I’d like to cry out that this is not fair, I’m not ready to let go just yet.  I don’t like the powerlessness of that fact.

And then the words of my dear deceased friend Barb comes out to me, “Who ever said life was fair?” and her words of comfort that I cling to in my most despairing moments: “This too shall pass”.

My mother is being stoical about her condition…and while I admire her emotional strength, that was always something that I lacked.  My mother has always been one tough cookie.   I’m more and more like my grandmother, who, towards the end of her very long life, worried about everyone and cried at the mere mention of certain people’s names.

I don’t know, M.  I’m a skeptic.  I think I’ve had enough life lessons for a while.  Can’t I just pass over some of this hollowing-out process?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Well, if there is a heaven, and you are able to somehow “know” about this letter I’m writing you, would you tell my grandparents I love them?  Tell Barb I miss her terribly, and say hello to my three babies waiting for me in heaven.

Thanks, you are a great man.



December 31,2013

This post has received many hits under the search term “letter to a dying man”.

In the time since I first posted this, I came across this wonderful video by teacher, storyteller, and spiritual activist Stephen Jenkinson.

If you can afford 70 minutes of your life, I encourage you to watch this beautiful documentary called Griefwalker.

About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
This entry was posted in Death, Friendship, Gratitude, Grief and Loss, Letters to Friends, Personal growth and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to A letter to a dying man

  1. magicinthewoods says:

    Emotional Horsepower. Beautiful words. I’m quoting you, and M in my art journal today. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Magicinthewoods,

    Thank you so much for that. I’m deeply honored. I don’t always know how my more melancholy posts will be taken, but I know this friend’s words need to be shared. It is so bittersweet to me…he is the one suffering, and yet he strived so much to bring comfort and encouragement to those he cared about.

    Best wishes to you…


  3. ksbeth says:

    thank you for sharing this, it was beautiful in it’s sadness. thank you for reading my words as well. peace, beth

  4. Casey says:

    thank you ksbeth. I will be back to read more of your blog, and comment. I’m supposed to be cleaning my daughters’ room. I’m just taking a break to browse a bit.


  5. Casey says:

    Reblogged this on The Sprightly Writer and commented:

    As the year winds down to a close, I wanted to share one of my most popular posts. A lot of people search the interwebs with the terms, “letter to a dying man” and this one gets pulled up. Today, it had 30 views, but no comments. I wonder what people think when they come across this post. Is it what they are looking for? Or not so much? I don’t know, but I always wonder about that.

  6. I’m left without many words, Casey. I’ve been thinking about death a lot, even more than usual. Might write it. We’ll see. I love the second part of your intro, about the diff things we can choose to fill that hole with.

    Your heart radiates and bleeds through your words.

    • Casey says:

      I should clarify, Diana

      Our friend Matt wrote the first paragraphs. He wrote it when he was going through his second round of bone marrow transplant. It failed. His mother posted a message on facebook for the second anniversary of his death. He was an amazing man. But you’d be surprised. The same man who was a tattooed up body builder, was also a chemist and a thinker.

      He’s the one who penned that inspirational message, not me. And yes, his heart radiated through his words, too.


      and yes, maybe you should write about death. Life encompasses everything, including death. if it’s a worthy topic to think about about, it’s a worthy topic to write about.

      Hugs, my friend…


      • I knew he’d written that. =)

        I was speaking of yOur heart.

        • Casey says:

          Aww…so caring of you to say.

          Thank you so much, DIana.

          You mean a great deal to me. Today is the last day of school for my daughters. So many last minute things to attend to…so I haven’t been online to write much or respond. I am so grateful you’ve been a part of my life, though it’s been in this virtual way.

          Blessings to you, my dear friend,


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