Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Life After Diagnosis

Question: What was your experience of living with your husband after his diagnosis?

Kay Redfield Jamison: I think that one of the many advantages of death accruing over a long period of time, in the case of my husband and with many people who have cancer or other chronic illnesses, is that you do have time to meet a lot of other people who are going through similar situations and one of the great delights of our life actually was sitting around in labs waiting for the results of tests and talking to other people who were waiting to find out whether their cancer numbers were going in the right direction or not.

I think it makes you very aware of just the acute pain and anxiety that people do go through. What I had not been aware of and what I was very interested in writing about was how extraordinary grief is. I mean people talk about grief as if it's kind of an unremittingly awful thing, and it is. It is painful, but it's a very, very interesting sort of thing to go through and it really helps you out. At the end of the day, it gets you through because you have to reform your relationship and you have to figure out a way of getting to the future. And grief does that. I was interested in the difference between that and depression because I had gone through depression and I thought that I might well get depressed again after Richard's death and I didn't. The similarities were interesting but the differences were to me far more interesting.

Question: Is it possible to live a full life after a fatal diagnosis?

Kay Redfield Jamison: Well I think first of all I think most people do in a funny sort of way. I think one of the things that you're not prepared for, I was not prepared for, was how exhausting it is to be the person -- I was the only person who took care of my husband and I loved being able to spend time with him and so forth. But it was tiring and I'm like a high voltage, high energy person and it was exhausting. I think that that's a really unfortunate side of that, but we counted ourselves blessed to have the time together actually. When you look at people who lose someone through a heart attack or suicide or an accident and they haven't the time to spend, we were very blessed in that respect and I don't think either of us ever took that for granted. And also we both were really busy, Richard in particular was well-known scientist and was always going off to meetings and giving papers and so forth. We both were zipping around like crazed weasels. At some point we just couldn't and didn't and wouldn't do that anymore and as a result we had just a lot of time to sit around and read together and talk and go out to movies and be with friends. It's not like he was sick all the time; just gradually make incremental changes in how he was able to get around.

But it was, it was for the most part delightful. We actually had fun. You don't lose the person; that's not true for people who have dementing illnesses or people who progressively really get so weak. But in our case, we were lucky he was able to enjoy life actually until very near the end.

Question: What was the last day with your husband like?

Kay Redfield Jamison: I think we both knew that it wasn't going to be very long before he died; that was clear from all the scans and his general deteriorating health, but we didn't have a sense that it was going to be that soon. We did. We had a wonderful last day; we had a room where we just sat and read. I used to -- he was very dyslexic and so I used to read to him. We just did. We talked and we had very meaningful talk about -- he was a scientist and he was concerned about how he would never understand the science of the disease schizophrenia that he had studied all of his life. He would never know what caused it, he would never know the treatments that came out, he'd never know the genetics of it. And this was for a scientist who's very curious, very painful for him and it was as close to seeing him very upset about things as I'd seen him, and yet after talking about it and so forth and talking about the nature of science and medicine.

And somehow it came back to being his usual actually quiet, optimistic self and it was a wonderful time we had. Yeah. I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world.

Question: Were you able to say goodbye?

Kay Redfield Jamison: Not really. Not anything other than a sort of in a symbolic sense because he got very sick, very fast and was in the ICU and unconscious, so there was no way of saying good-bye to him. I said certainly said good night to him the last night that he was in the hospital, but I didn't think he was going to die and he didn't think he was going to die. So there was no kind of final thing. When he did die and when I had the—all of life support removed from him, yeah, those kind of incredible private moments that you don't know about until you go through them of saying that kind of final farewell to someone you've been with for 20 years. It's—but I think again—and it was awful, it was painful and sad, but it was also the sort of thing—there is an intimacy to dying that he and I used to talk about. That you just don't know until you're with somebody. You have this incredible closeness and vulnerability and sense of whether or not there are going to be arguments or discussions here that are fought, we are going to take care of one another.

Recorded On: September 30, 2009

Kay Redfield Jamison discusses how she and her late husband found profound delight in his final years as well as the commanding power of the grieving process.

LIVE EVENT | Radical innovation: Unlocking the future of human invention

Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo


Keep reading Show less

Navy SEALs: How to build a warrior mindset

SEAL training is the ultimate test of both mental and physical strength.

Videos
  • The fact that U.S. Navy SEALs endure very rigorous training before entering the field is common knowledge, but just what happens at those facilities is less often discussed. In this video, former SEALs Brent Gleeson, David Goggins, and Eric Greitens (as well as authors Jesse Itzler and Jamie Wheal) talk about how the 18-month program is designed to build elite, disciplined operatives with immense mental toughness and resilience.
  • Wheal dives into the cutting-edge technology and science that the navy uses to prepare these individuals. Itzler shares his experience meeting and briefly living with Goggins (who was also an Army Ranger) and the things he learned about pushing past perceived limits.
  • Goggins dives into why you should leave your comfort zone, introduces the 40 percent rule, and explains why the biggest battle we all face is the one in our own minds. "Usually whatever's in front of you isn't as big as you make it out to be," says the SEAL turned motivational speaker. "We start to make these very small things enormous because we allow our minds to take control and go away from us. We have to regain control of our mind."
Keep reading Show less

New guidelines redefine 'obesity' to curb fat shaming

Is focusing solely on body mass index the best way for doctor to frame obesity?

Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • New guidelines published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal argue that obesity should be defined as a condition that involves high body mass index along with a corresponding physical or mental health condition.
  • The guidelines note that classifying obesity by body mass index alone may lead to fat shaming or non-optimal treatments.
  • The guidelines offer five steps for reframing the way doctors treat obesity.
Keep reading Show less

NASA's idea for making food from thin air just became a reality — it could feed billions

Here's why you might eat greenhouse gases in the future.

Jordane Mathieu on Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
  • Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
  • The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
Keep reading Show less

How COVID-19 will change the way we design our homes

Pandemic-inspired housing innovation will collide with techno-acceleration.

Maja Hitij/Getty Images
Coronavirus
COVID-19 is confounding planning for basic human needs, including shelter.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast