what to say?

My customers are golfers. As this sport can be played into old age – which is basically one of its biggest advantages over other sports – it also makes my life very sad at times. Peolpe die. On average, in Germany statistically one to two deaths a year per thousand people are the norm. So I should expect to lose three or so out of my membership every year. If this happens, due to old age, one can accept it, somehow. Usually, this members have stopped playing the game actively, already. Maybe still taking part in one or two festivities or coming over for a coffee and cake on Sundays to sit with their former sports-pals. After they have passed away, I’m usually left to sort contracts and shares with heirs. Sometimes getting the feeling, that I might have shared more time with the deceased than they have with their own family.

But this regular course of life in a rather big community, which is, what a golf club is, too, is not what bugs me today. It’s the devastating reap of the big C – cancer. This winter was awful and there is no end to horrible news. Having to attend burial after burial, learning about new cases all the while. It’s hard to watch people getting sick, going through – sometimes awful – treatment. See them fight, hope. Usually getting better after a while. Being back out on the golf course, enjoying an entire new perspective on life. And half a year later, they would sit on the terrace after their last round of golf, having to go back for another set of chemotherapy or irradiation or operation. After having suffered a relapse, that often ends fatal.

I never know, how to talk to these poor souls. I have some experience with it, after so many cases, that I can tell the fear in their eyes. One can almost see, how all fight is gone in them. How they are in the process of accepting, that they will die. And this is the last time, we’ll see each other. How they secretly would rather forgoe this last medical attempt to save their life. As they already know how horrid the suffering will be, if they try once more to win. And they will try, more for their beloved ones, than for themselves.

I will – by example – tell you about our former mens captain. He was a successfull. purposeful CEO, a vivid sports person and sometimes a very determined and harsh man to deal with. We had many disputes, but basically grew to respect each other, even if we agreed to disagree on many a point. Maybe twelve years ago, he fell ill with lung cancer. Losing half his lung in the process, he managed to survive and get well again, taking up golf again. A year in: bad news, once more. Now his bladder was affected. He fought this, too, being back on the course after a while. Not able to play for the team any more, but still out, enjoying his weekly Sunday round with his wife. And back at his job. A few years in, another diagnosis, that would take out most everyone, now it was brain tumors. I vividly recall him coming back from his operation, all hair shorn off, a big, red scar circumferencing his head, when he took off his hat for me. Already weary, as he knew, that the operation was one thing, but the four months chemotherapy to come, was yet another. But he is and was a fighter, so he went through it and won the race. Granting him a couple of more years of life.

He retired, they bought themselves a little holiday cottage on an island on Germany’s northern coast and tried to have as nice a time as possible. Regularly coming to play golf, whenever they were back in Berlin. Last spring he came to my office, to give me the prologue to the last chapter of what a human can go through: cancer of the pancreas. This usually means six more months, at the most. But we have another member, who suffered this pest and not only survived it seven years ago, but still lives on. Sure, somewhat handicapped with having to keep special diets (as the digestive tract has been left very impaired) and also he is generally weakened, but he leads a fairly normal life.

Knowing this and feeling well advised by his doctors, who showed him round now, for being the one patient with the biggest variety of cancers they had ever happened upon, he geared himself up to fight this one, too. He built up his fitness, training regularly, prior to his operation sceduled for last August. Knowing it would take out all of him, to get through it and the subsequent chemo. He came out to see me for a chat in January, telling me, how he was getting on. Not good, as the poisonous chemicals supposed to kill the cancer almost did him in, alltogether. Causing high fevers and ague after every treatment, weaking him. Plus his digestion was gone, too, affording him not only to deal with a stoma, but to eat very specific stuff, only. Stuff, he didn’t like much. But he liked his life and was determined to keep it. No matter how bad it got. This week, he called me once more. Ready to pack it in. He asked me to sell his shares and find someone to take over his membership. Turns out, the cancer wasn’t killed. It had spread to the liver, now. Therapy of the worst form could buy him only time. A quality of time, he doesn’t want. Not anymore. And I can understand him.

I could tell you many other stories like that – maybe not as drastic – but horrible, unbearable, all of them. Most of them fatal in the end. And my question remains: how to deal with it? What to say to people in such a situation? I just keep on to be as honest and direct and empathic as I can be. And hope, that’s ok with them.

2 thoughts on “what to say?

  1. I think you’re doing it right when you are as honest. direct and emphatic as you can be. Sometimes it is enough just to listen. And secretly wish that your own end will come in the form of a bus, or something. Quick and easy, (albeit rather messy) but far easier than the long wait.


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