There were so many questions after Shawn died. So many.
Was there a family history of cancer?
Did he exercise?
What were the warning signs?
Why didn’t you demand a colonoscopy earlier?
Did he have a regular doctor?
Did he smoke?
Did the medical team try immunotherapy?
Did he eat a special diet?
Did he drink a lot?
Did he have symptoms earlier in the year?
Was he healthy otherwise?
Those were just some of the things people asked me. Of course there were questions. Shawn was an incredibly vibrant 40-year-old. How could this happen, they wondered?
But the big question was lurking under all of these questions, one that no one would say, but everyone was thinking:
There was something that made Shawn different from the rest of us, right?
I’m not saying that people who asked these questions didn’t genuinely care about Shawn. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be curious about how cancer can kill a healthy man so quickly. I’m not saying that it’s normal that a man with no family history of cancer should die 6 weeks after his diagnosis.
What I am saying is this: underneath all of these questions is fear.
It’s okay, I have that fear too.
The fear is that if cancer can steal away someone like Shawn, it could take any of us at any time. We are all only temporarily part of this world. Our lives could end today, tomorrow, or in 50 years.
That’s a daunting thought, and one no one my age wants to think about. So we ask questions like those that I got about Shawn. We look for loopholes. “Well,” we reason, “Shawn ate too many processed foods, and I never eat processed foods, so I won’t die like him.”
It’s normal to think like this. Hell, I think like this! But here’s the deal. Sometimes, death comes for us. Sometimes there is no reason, no explanation. And even if there is, even if someone went skydiving and didn’t wear proper safety gear or decided to try and tame a wild animal with no training – even then, it’s senseless and tragic. Even then, these questions about how a loved one has died doesn’t bring them back.
And those questions don’t protect the living either. We want to know why because then we can be safe. We want the answers to these questions to give us solace.
Wear a helmet. Buckle your seat belt. Get a colonoscopy when you turn 45. Get that cough checked out. Teach your kids to swim.
But please don’t ask me if my husband had a good diet. His love affair with Pop Tarts in seventh grade wasn’t the reason he died.
He died because sometimes life is unexplainable. Sometimes, life is unfair and no matter how much we want to, we just can’t plan for everything.