I've been writing since my high school newspaper days. My passion is to tell stories of people. I especially like to share about people who make a difference through the lives they lead. Dennis Xuereb is one such person. I asked him if I could share the last leg of his journey with you. Part of me hoped he would say no because that part of me feels inadequate to fully share his story. The other part of me was honored when this courageous man, I call friend, said yes!
Dennis is a medical doctor (
) from the country of Malta. He's a husband, father, and grandfather. He's an active member of St. Anthony's parish, having served in several ministries, most notably as co-founder and facilitator of the Grief group. Dennis is deeply concerned about how human beings are treated and cared for and he's always ready to stand up for them.
We agreed that in the weeks ahead, I would email him a question about his end of life journey. Here's the first couple of questions and responses from Dennis.
In terms of your journey, how long has it been since you learned of your diagnosis? Has it gotten any easier or worse to come to terms with it? If easier, why? If worse, why?
As to your question I have known my diagnosis since mid November ’18. After several tests at the University Hospitals it was declared inoperable before Christmas. With my medical background I knew from the beginning what the future held and it has been unfolding as I suspected it would. I was offered chemotherapy which I categorically turned down knowing what’s involved and the non-guaranteed results. The radiation oncologist at Genesis West, who had treated me for prostate cancer some years ago, suggested a course of radiation that might help with the pain. The latter is currently being more or less well controlled with medications but my main problem is with the awful exhaustion I feel all the time. I eat little because everything causes more pain due to the inability to digest. I have lost about 30 lbs.
It has not been hard for me to come to terms with the diagnosis and the prognosis. It’s harder on my loved ones because they sense that I have accepted my fate. The American description of the diagnosis of cancer as some kind of battle that the strong have a say in overcoming is fantasy-land. Even with cancers in a specific organ cause and outcome are predetermined by the type of tumor and its stage at diagnosis. Then, as with pancreas, tumors in certain organs are usually diagnosed late and the course to patient’s demise is hardly affected at all by whatever treatment is applied.
As you’ve heard me say before I am very thankful that I have a few days or weeks to say goodbye and to leave my house in order. My faith sustains me and I am able to see all the good around me which I previously was oblivious to.
Can you give me some thoughts on what it has been like for you to plan your own funeral? Weird? Sad? Comforting? Whatever you want to share?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m most grateful for the time given me to prepare for my death. People who know me know that I am not one used to leaving things to chance. I have not been this busy since I retired in 2008. Planning my funeral, my way, is my final act. I am not afraid of death, but I would like it to be a good one, done my way. As you have gathered by now I have my own children foremost in mind as we go about filling out the program. I love my kids and they are genuinely good kids. They live by their strong values even as they stepped away from formal religion. I want them to see that the rusty, crusty behavior of some priests does not define the modern Catholic religion that you, I and several good people of St Anthony practice every day. They will appreciate my effort at reaching out to them and speaking to them in their language. Yes, I do find it comforting to be allowed to do this.
The dialogue that opened up between my children and myself since I announced my grave prognosis has been enlightening. The often superficial banter that went for years between us has given way to deep discussions without restraint. A deeper love has emerged as we all got to know each other better. I wish the process on all people dear to me because it brings real peace to the soul. My daughter, who was here just over two weeks ago is planning a return on Feb 8. She’s the prime mover behind the process and is determined to milk the time left to the fullest. If our rehearsal could be fitted in during her stay it would be marvelous because she’s a tough critic and if I get her approval it would mean so much to me.
Kim Nofsker, our music director has been working very closely with Dennis on the music for his funeral. Yes, when he references a "rehearsal," Kim is planning to rehearse the music for his funeral with him!