Family and friends of Jim Chastain braved the cold weather on Tuesday aftenoon, December 29, to celebrate his life. We laughed and we cried as close friends walked us down memory lane.
No one was surprised that Jim had written a poem to be read at his funeral. We found his words to us printed in the worship folder and I am reprinting them here believing that he would want any of you have visited this site to hear them as well.
I’d been wanting to write a poem that says goodbye, but spares readers from the melodrama of poems that say goodbye.
This resulted in writer’s block, for the thought that these might be the actual words that would someday be read at my funeral made me creatively constipated.
Because how does one say goodbye to the wife who stood by you all those years for no good reason except that she’s dependable, longsuffering and true?
Or to the beautiful daughter who always made you laugh, who went out of her way to hug you every time, every single time, you really needed it?
Or to the son, who was so often the buddy you needed, who laughed at your lame jokes, who “gets” you, who was oh-so gifted as a songwriter?
Or to the former family, who’d already lost so much? Or to all those friends who’d touched your life, who chose to hang in there through thick and thin?
You see the problem here? Melodrama seems inevitable. So I’ve settled upon a poem that’s about trying to write a poem that says goodbye.
And I’ll finish it the only way I know how, with a funny story: I began this poem on the toilet, having ingested too much iron, and I finished it on the loveseat,
looking out upon a cold, blustery day, with the sweetest of all dogs curled up by my feet and the fattest of all cats sitting on my lap, purring.
To Jim Chastain, thank you for sharing your life and your dying time openly and honestly by putting your thoughts and feelings on paper so we could walk along beside you for a time on this last part of your journey.
You are loved. You are missed.
We are changed – not because you left us but because you touched us.
CHASTAIN FUNERAL TUESDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2:00 P.M. at McFarlin Memorial United Methodist Church, Norman.
Memorial service for Jim Chastain will be Tuesday, December 29 at 2:00 p.m. in Norman.
Following the service there will be a reception for friends and family to share memories. “Memory Cards” will be available at the service for people to share thoughts/memories of Jim that LeAnn wants to save for Maddye and Ford. If you cannot attend the service, leave them on the Oklahoman blog and she can retrieve them from there.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Jim Chastain Memorial Fund at First Bank and Trust in Norman. This money will go toward a college fund for Jim’s two children.
Our friend Jim Chastain died last night. I wrote a column in today” newspaper in the YOU section about my last visit with him.
Now I want to write about how we all experienced him so if you want to send me a brief 2 or 3 sentences to firstname.lastname@example.org I will be writing today.
May we who admired and loved him, celebrate this season about in his memory, because he loved life and would want us all to embrace it as did he. Charlotte
Sent: Sun 5/10/2009 2:43 PM
To: Charlotte Lankard
Subject: Grief resource
My column that ran in the July 26 edition of the Oklahoman has been placed on the front page of this blog. I wrote about the loneliness of terminal cancer patients – not because friends and family do not care, but because friends and family are overwhelmed with their own feelings and reactions to an impending death and the tendency of the patient will begin to hide their thoughts and feelings in order to make everyone else feel better.
In response to that column, my friend Jan who has also been given the prognosis ”terminal” – wrote - and has given me permission to share her thoughts with you.
This was great. I loved the 4th paragraph. Relationships…..begin to change and will keep changing. That is life.
I think the thing that has struck me lately is that when I am thinking about relationships changing I think of that period of unease and resistance to change and that there is an evolution of change. That change usually evolves into a different relationship.
But when I think that I may not have time to see the evolution, I am sad and I want the relationship to remain stable and not go through that painful rebirth period because I may not have enough time to see the new relationship and the relationship will end midstream at a bad place.
Then it struck me that death really doesn’t end the relationship. But that you can let fear paralyze your willingness to embrace change. And if life is change, you can choose to stop living before you die.
I’m so glad to see that section on not looking sick and a secret identity.
That’s the irony…..a terminal patient wants to still be treated as who they are and yet give up so much of who they are in an attempt to hold on to who they used to be before.
I remember that Jim in one of his poems talked about needing to have people still have hope. I think there is a real connection between wanting to have hope ourselves and needing to see that hope in other people’s eyes.
The isolation comes in when we know we aren’t getting an honest response because we feel the need to withhold the despair we sometimes feel. What a mess.
The part that touched me the most were the two lines about lack of praise
for expression of fear, guilt and sadness. I think families are made to feel that while the patient may have some latitude to express those
feelings, family members are perceived as self-centered or somehow not
entitled to those feelings.
My son and I talk a lot about that and how he feels guilty about his reactions sometimes because any problem less than terminal illness seems self-indulgent when someone you love is facing death.
You know I think Jim has done such a good thing by doing this and I hope he won’t give it up. And I think his family has so much to contribute by giving their perspective, but I can certainly understand why they want to stop.
It’s too bad because they are in the position to be a voice for the other
dimension of this, but maybe they will be able to do it someday when they’ve had a chance to reflect instead of doing a blow-by-blow as it happens. Jan
Living with a cancer diagnosis is not easy. Often you must live with unanswered questions. Are there hopes for remission? Is that really a possibility or are they just trying to make me feel better? Is it terminal? If so, how long do I have?
Living with a cancer diagnosis affects many areas of your life. Two of the most common are relationships and your belief system.
Relationships are affected when chronic illness of any kind strikes. Difficulties develop which are so complex that statistics show nearly 85 % of marriages with these challenges fail. No one warns you of this and too often couples are into the problems before they realize what has happened.
Creating a support system can be helpful. A cancer support group or individual or couple counseling can help you stay aware of how your relationship is being impacted and what you need to be alert to.
A cancer diagnosis can impact your belief system. It may expand it or it may challenge. If you’ve been taught that everything happens for a reason or that people get what they deserve, then you may feel hopeless and let down by your faith. You may find yourself asking, “Why has this happened to me?”
You may feel angry at God and then feel it is a terrible sin to be angry with God – or you may fear you have lost your faith.
Such feelings can deprive you of strength and reassurance that faith offers at a time when you need it most. Your faith needs to give you comfort and support, not feelings of abandonment, so talk to someone you trust.
Wendy Harpham, MD from Dallas Texas is a physican who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1990 .
Since then she has undergone every conceivable issue related to cancer:
*choosing experimental treatment over conventional
*coping with raising small children
* living with cancer-related fatigue
* experiencing seven recurrences
* having to recognize that her old life as a family practice physician was gone forever.
When she was first diagnosed she was committed to educating her patients and she wrote a pamphalet for them about all the things to do when you learn you have cancer. It eventually became a book called Diagnosis: Cancer that was published the month she found out about her first recurrence.
Other books followed. After Cancer: A Guide to your New Life, which provides cancer survivors with questions and issues to address as they move out of treatment and into the “new normal.”
Her next book When a Parent has Cancer tells what she and her husband learned about how to help children and parents cope with the experience. Tucked in the back cover of the book is a children’s book Becky and the Worry Cup written about the experiences of her oldest daughter Rebecca.
Next came The Hope Tree: Kids Talk about Breast Cancer, a book she co-authored with Laura Numeroff to help families talk with their children.
Happiness in a Storm: Facing Illness and Embracing Life as a Healthy Survivor, addresses survivorship from all illnesses and provides practical philosphy and science-based knowledge to get good medical care and find happiness while you are sick.
Her most recent book is Only 10 Seconds to Care: Help and Hope for Busy Clinicians, is aimed at physicans but also extraordinarily helpful to patients.
Her books are available through any bookstore and her website is www.wendyharpham.com
A dying process has no fixed time limit. When my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we were told he might have 6 months to live, but he only lived another 100 days. I’ve known others that lived years beyond what was expected.
Not knowing “how long you have” is hard for the patient and the family. This is a time when some enter a period of what is called “anticipatory grief”.
Anticipatory grief does not substitute or lesson the post-death grief process. It is not just post-death grief pushed ahead in time.
When a family is anticipating a single death, they are also anticipating multiple losses – loss of hope, a future together, levels of functioning, security and invulnerability.
The most common concern for anticipatory grief is that it can result in premature detachment from the dying person, resulting in a feeling of abandonment.
The most difficult challenge for a family during this period is to try and maintain as normal a lifestyle as possible.
Jim’s family has set a good example for us by trying to maintain normalcy. His wife, LeAnn, not only continues her job as a teacher and is involved in the activities of her husband and teenage children and her friends, but she also prepares for and runs marathons. Her latest run was the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in April.
Jim’s daughter Maddye and son Ford pursue their own interests, hang out with friends and do normal things that teenagers do.
Jim, in addition to chemotherapy treatments and regular trips to M.D.Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, continues his job as an attorney at the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, writes poetry, is completing a 2nd book, participates in poetry readings, lunches with friends, sees movies and spends time with his wife, his kids and his friends.
It is common that a few people will judge them for trying to live a normal life, but it is an important aspect of weathering this experience because nobody can face death all the time and unless you take time for yourself, for letting out your feelings and taking care of your health, you may well run out of fuel before the process is over.
Lynn from Western Oklahoma wrote to tell me of an encounter about 20 years ago with her 15 year old son after her diagnosis of cancer.
They were having a typical teenage/parent conflict and he blurted out, “So how do you think it feels to grow up having a mom that’s going to die all the time? My life is awful and nobody wants to hear about my problems because you have the monopoly on that.”
Lynn says the down side of having a relationship where your kid is comfortable enough to tell you anything and everything is that …. sometimes they do.
She remembers how much that hurt her because she had wanted so much to protect the kids from being consumed with cancer and when he threw those words at her saying his own life was upside down, she felt guilt and responsibility for having failed to do that, especially when she had thought she was doing such an outstanding job of managing it all.
When her son saw her reaction, he immediately tried to take it back. She remembers him sobbing and telling her how he hadn’t meant it. She, however, knew he was telling his truth and so did he.
She said, ” I even felt worse that he couldn’t say what he was feeling without such guilt. It was totally circular guilt and regret. I remember not having a clue what to say or do to make this less significant and less painful to both of us.”
Lynn remembers longing for just a few hours to have a respite without argument. She wishes she had said …..”between three and six on Mondays and Thursdays, we are going to forget what is happening that is consuming us.”
Now in looking back at that experience, Lynn wonders whether that was just an “I hate you and I hate my life” moment that teens so often experience instead of the “I hate you and I hate my life, but only because you have cancer” moment that she had interpreted in that split second. She says in hindsight she wishes she had just glared at him and responded with ”I don’t believe you mean that for a single second.” Even, she said, if I didn’t believe it, a least he might have been able to.
A few days ago, Lynn asked her now grown son if he remembered that incident. His response was, “Mom I remember that I said that a lot and I also remember that you said that I was full of it and to stop trying to manipulate you with pity!”
She said he even got her tone of voice down perfectly, and muses, “Funny, I think he honestly remembers it that way. I feel like I must have done something right in spite of myself.”
Tuesday evening, April 21, got a text message from Jim from the Cancer Center in Houston saying, “Good news! Everything is still stable.”
He has been doing the chemotherapy with the usual side effects – hair loss, nausea, lethargy – and it is all worth it because it seems to be stabilizing the cancer….it’s not going away, but neither is it growing!
We’re celebrating and will take all small victories. Way to go Jim!