When I was a young woman, I went through a bad patch when doctors told me I would never have children. Fortunately, they were wrong, and I am the mother of three.

But I remember for a couple of years feeling as if I was the sole unfruitful female in a society abounding with pregnant women. Bulging with incipient life, these pregnant women jammed the supermarkets, crowded the church steps, even walked the byways of my favorite park. With envious eyes, I could see only these women.

Obviously, we see what we are looking for. One of my dear friends has been told her cancer is terminal. Over the weekend, I asked her, what does she see?

"People surviving cancer everywhere," she said. "In the newspapers and on television. We're told about the brave and the chipper, the ones who went through horrid chemotherapy and kept their chin up. We never hear about the ones who go through treatment and don't make it."

Well, that's not quite true, of course. But she does have a point. Average people with terminal illnesses who do not survive are not news. These people end up as we expected them to: dead.

Now Margaret (not her real name) is understand-
ably sensitive about her situation. Although I have yet to go there and am not anxious to start, dying usually takes some time and forces the person into various mental states, from outright panic to quiet acceptance.

"Instead of telling me what to do and how to feel, why don't people do something for me, something useful?"

Right now, Margaret is stoic on the outside, but inside she is angry. Who can blame her?

What may surprise you is that her anger is directed toward bores. She says she is weary of chatter from people who don't relate to her as a person.

"The most irritating people tell me 'pray hard,' as if I need to be told that. And if I pray and I'm still not cured, what does that say? Instead of telling me what to do and how to feel, why don't people do something for me, something useful? No one asks if they can go to the store, for instance," Margaret said.

Margaret makes a point that many of us need to remember, particularly as we grow older and reluctantly see friends and family dealing with fatal illnesses. We need to be brave and thoughtful enough to go through the illness with them, on their own terms. Instead, too often we tell them how we presume we would act. What arrogance!

My friend is a long way from walking her last mile. She can be a bit detached, almost academic, about her situation at this point. For example, she's tidying her legal paperwork, considering options when she's bedridden, trying to muster the inner strength to be helpful to others facing end-of-life issues.

Margaret wants to be challenged mentally, to focus her attention outside herself. Most of all, she doesn't want to be told how to walk the last walk.

While we celebrate the people who survive, reality is that many die, often surrounded by people telling them how to do it even though they have never been there. American poet Phyllis McGinley noted about the death of St. Francis that he was surrounded by monks, one of them reminding the saint about the virtue of his suffering. As McGinley noted, the monk's nattering only proves that "bores we have with us until the end."

Margaret, and every other person facing a final hour, deserves better than to be bored.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune. (c) 2000, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).

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