Forewarning: Deep insights, tragic endings, cancer and spoilers of John Green’s book. This is not for the faint hearted. Deaths, delusion and my own personal thoughts.
I just finished reading this very book from John Green this morning. I woke up unusually early for someone so tired, and then in my PJs, I spent the next hour finishing up the book. It is not an easy book to read, I reckon. After much procrastinating, I finally decided to read it. You cannot read it all at one go though, since it is heartbreaking, and also realistic at the same time. It is so heavy and full, that sometimes I am overwhelmed and I have to put it down. It’s a book with a lot of long complicated English terms too, so sometimes I have to reread it all again.
As I am typing this, I’m playing Kodaline in the background, and somehow, ‘I won’t give up’ by Jason Mraz fits too. The book ends in a bittersweet moment, but I am grateful to have read this book.
The book centres upon a girl called Hazel Grace, who had terminal cancer. She has fluid in her lungs, which need to be drained every so often, and she breathes through an oxygen tank. She has tubes through her nose and around her back. Her life is stuck between home, the Cancer Support Group, and struggling to live like a normal person. One thing I was impressed by this book was how it made me feel how it was like in a cancer patient’s shoes. How Hazel struggled to breathe. Every minute she breathes, it’s not normality, but an effort in itself. Every day she lives, it’s both a joy and a pain for her parents. How she cannot fully live the normal life of a youth, since she would forever be looked upon by others, with pity. There would always be a distance bridging her and her friends, as they can never fully understand what it is like, and how to make her feel better.
In her cancer support group, a new person is then brought into her life. There are a few people introduced, such as Isaac, who is a guy going blind due to his condition. His girlfriend leaves him shortly after. There is Peter, the leader of the support group. And there comes Augustus Waters, ex basketball player and with good looks and wit. She is immediately drawn to him, and he is likewise drawn to her.
And so begins the story of how they start to know each other. At first, Hazel tries to stay away, since she told him that she was a grenade…. When the time comes, she would blow up, and leave people in the wreckage. She did not want him to get hurt when she died. Augustus refuses to stay away, since he after all, loves her.
Hazel begins to start living a life, through Augustus. An ordinary life that is quite extraordinary for a terminal patient. He brought her out to picnics, and took her to watch movies, and play games on his console at his house. They both become good friends too, and Hazel then told him about her wish list.
Hazel’s dream wish, before she died, was to find out the ending of a book that she loved. She is particularly drawn to a book called The Imperial Affliction, whereby loves how the author Peter Van Houten writes, and how it ends in a pause. The book is never finished, and she does not know how it ends. When she writes to Peter Van Houten, he replies in a shocking revelation to invite her and Augustus to Amsterdam.
Together, they set off to fulfil Hazel’s wish. To her dismay however, the author of the book is not as welcoming as they thought. He turned out to have wasted his life away after writing that book, and he chose to end it this way, letting the characters end off there. There was no sequel, as Hazel had hoped. He was a man bottled with grief, and he spent his money idling and drinking away.
During their trip there, Hazel then finds out about Augustus’s condition.
He was dying…
The cancer that he had supposedly recovered from, had come back in full force. It spread to his whole body. His own body was his cancer. At this point I was already devastated and refused to read the book again for days. Haha.
When they returned back, Augustus’ condition got worse. He was no longer the same, since he was so weak that he could not do anything. But he vowed to write a sequel of the book that Hazel loved, to make her happy. Hazel spent the days off with him, and she told him,
‘You gave me a forever within the numbered days and I’m grateful.’
The rest of the book showed the anger that Augustus’ family faced, and how Hazel suffered. They were angered at the universe, how it could take away and give and just leave things in the wreckage. Hazel knew of death, and she described how she felt an his funeral. Funerals, she felt, was for the living. For them to grieve about the person. Friends of Augustus come rolling in with wishes, telling what a great and good person he was. The sad part of this is how these wishes only come in, and friends come back in, when the person has already gone.
Hazel then discovers from Isaac, that Augustus had tried to finish the book for her, by contacting Peter Van Houten. In her struggle and desperation to find it, it ends off in this letter by him to Peter Van Houten. And his last words about her ended like this
You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.
It is a very bittersweet ending. One that is both joyful that Augustus did live a full life with her, and she had something beautiful within these numbered days she lives. It is not easy to deal with death. Death is finalising. Once it comes, you can’t get the person back.
There is hope of course, we go to a better place. But the separation hurts nonetheless. I am not unfamiliar with death.. Relatives die, people we know around us die. The South Korean ship that sank, the MH370, the countless lives lost through wars, in the Middle East. Those people have families and friends… like me, like us.
I am afraid of losing people. I’m afraid of dying because of the wreckage it leaves behind. My nightmares are about my family members dying, leaving me one by one. Dreams about my friends dying, and I can only stand by and watch. People I love. People that mean a lot to me. There was a time where 2 of my relatives passed away in a matter of months. After attending so many funerals, I was scared my brother would die too. So I often woke up, as a child, to check on him, listen if he was breathing. Since as a child, I was scared he would die in his sleep, and I would be alone.
Life is unexpected. You don’t know when, or who would be taken away!
In fact, I’m even going for a funeral today, and true enough, the funeral of a cancer fighter. A faithful servant of the church, who lived on fire for God. She was only in her late 50s…. I always get that sinking feeling.
I’ve always asked myself one thing. What would I do if I only had one day left to live?
I’d gather my family and close friends around, and tell them I love them. And we would pray, and talk like good times. Cry if we must. I’ll call those that I can’t reach, or write letters. I’ll spend hours writing them, and pass it to people. I’d tell each person what they mean to me… And I’d be brave enough to call up that special person, and tell him that deep down inside, he means so much, and I know he doesn’t feel the same. But it’s okay. Granted, it was a privilege meeting him, and I don’t regret anything. I’ll probably write on this blog too, and write on the social media. And I’ll be prepared to snuggle with my Bible, to get ready to meet with the Lord. Because I know, that I will see Him in Heaven one day.
We all have an expiry date. Every single one of us has one, just that for the terminally ill, the expiration date is blunter and clearer. It gets right up to their face, to remind them of their mortality. In moments like these, it’s good to be reminded. The gift today, is the present.
I want to live, with no regrets, knowing that I would have lived my life to the fullest. Experiencing every single thing that I got, and treasuring the ones I love.