Norm MacDonald passed away a couple of days ago. Now I don’t agree with everything he says, but he is one my favorite comics in the world. It breaks my heart to know that I’ll never heard any new material or pearls of wisdom from him. I truly identify with his humor, his weaknesses, his rants, and his propensity for non sequiturs.
Not many people knew that he had cancer for over nine years. He purposely kept it from the public. It’s funny looking back at his materials, especially the one about cancer and “bravely battling cancer.” He noted that no one really battles cancer, and if you die from cancer, you don’t really lose. Since the cancer also dies with you, it’s technically a tie. There are many popular Youtube clips of him, but I’m sure that one cancer bit is one among many that people will be watching.
One thing he mentioned in one of his shows however is that when someone is afflicted with cancer, people tend to talk about their experiences regarding their suffering. It amplifies the suffering and perhaps that’s where the term “battling cancer” comes from, because it lionizes them. In sharing their experience, they willingly or perhaps unwittingly garner sympathy which is in many ways not brave. What’s brave is keeping it to yourself, and shielding people from the pain and suffering you are feeling. When someone has cancer, it is not a unique thing that is happening to them. Most people get cancer. And the insight regarding suffering through cancer is something that most people will know soon enough. Best to keep that to yourself and have people lead normal and happy lives for as long as you can afford it.
He mentioned the stuntman and actor Richard Farnsworth whose last film was ‘The Straight Story,’ about a man who rode a riding lawnmower across the United States. He starred in the movie while he was suffering from cancer and never told anyone. He was nominated for Best Actor in 1999 and lost to Kevin Spacey for ‘American Beauty.’ Norm can’t help but think that if people knew that it was probably Farmsworth’s last film and that he was currently dying of cancer, he would’ve easily won the award. But Farnsworth kept it to himself because he didn’t want anyone’s sympathy. So the Academy went to an accused rapist.
Now, I see where he is coming from. But my mother passed away at a much younger age than him and deteriorated quickly after her diagnosis. She never used her cancer to garner sympathy, nor did she want anyone’s sympathy. She just let her children know that she was sick. In fact, she kept me and my older sister out of the city as much as she can while she was ill. She told us that things we’re okay and that we didn’t need to visit. It wasn’t until her last days that I was asked to come back home and be with my dying mother. I knew why she did that. She was thinking much like Norm MacDonald. She was shielding us from the pain and suffering, and wanted us to live our lives normally. But looking back, I really wish she was less brave and asked for us to come home sooner. I really wish I got to spend more time with her.
Much like ‘Rashomon,’ I guess it all depends on whose perspective it is. To the ones with cancer, perhaps they don’t really want to gather sympathy. They don’t want to share their suffering with others. But as for their loved ones, they simply want to take the suffering away from their dying relative. They want to sympathize and lionize them, in many ways eulogize their loved ones while they can still hear what they are saying. They want to make the passage of death softer and easier because their own fear and insecurities of confronting their own deaths in the future.
In any case, the world is a sadder and less interesting place without Norm MacDonald. Even in death, he got people thinking and perhaps smiling. I love you, Norm.