Sunday, May 21, 2017

LIVING WITH DYING - Installment 1

  I have made the point before---this is a writer’s blog. In this case I am the writer. Whether or not you read or like what I write, I claim that title for myself.
    So it is, with this post I am beginning a new story--for me and about me. I can't get more selfish than that. There will be more installments to follow. How many I can’t say for sure. It is, after all, a story in progress. At some point in the future I hope to compile these posts into a single volume ---a project I am tentatively calling LIVING WITH DYING--to be included on my Amazon Author’s page.
    A disclaimer is in order here. This will not be light reading. Though I am sure some of you will check out before you have finished this first post, I sincerely hope that most of you will stick with me, if only to see where this adventure takes us. Truth is, I want to know that myself.
     Finally, if all this strikes you as a bit morbid, I hope I can help you move beyond that. True, it will be real, very real. But the intent is simple enough. I want to understand my new reality in ways I haven’t sorted out yet. That process need not be sad and gloomy. With that, I hope you will join me as I learn more about LIVING WITH DYING.


YOU REMEMBER THAT TIME, DON’T YOU? Those good old days---when you lived life on auto-pilot, trusting that what had always worked before would continue to work in the future.
If your life played out like mine, by middle-age---say fifty or so---you had grown comfortable with your lifestyle, and the routines and responses that made it possible. Chances are those comfortable, normally-predictable times were rarely interrupted by distressing thoughts of “what if”? I for one went sailing through those years with scarcely a worry---until, as I moved into the November of my life, I learned something new about “what if.”
I suppose everyone understands---each in their own way---how those “what ifs,” especially the health-related ones, have a way of casting their shadow over late-life. The impact of those murky clouds can range from a thin, hazy veil that dims an otherwise sunny day, to a dark and menacing storm front that threatens to blot out even the slightest hint of our personal silver lining.
Yet in whatever form and on whatever scale they arrive, those disturbing “gotcha” moments----when “what if” becomes “what is,” are bound to create significant change in one's life, some of it minor, some of it not-so-minor. To be sure, I have been there---those awkward moments when my forty-year old mind was inexplicably sabotaged by my eighty-year old body. And I will admit, that was occasionally embarrassing. After all, if I grumbled too loudly the wife was apt to conclude that I was no longer the macho young fellow she had married. Do you suppose she knew that already?
Perhaps you can guess by now that my life-path has taken an unplanned detour, veering off on a dimly lit, sometimes intimidating side road. Fortunately my “Gotcha” was discovered at a relatively early stage. Best of all, I am fortunate enough to have an experienced, highly-skilled care team on my side. 
Of course none of us, not even those “best available care” folks, can see around the next corner. They have, however, explained that the prognosis is “apparently manageable.” I’ll admit, at the time that was only a bit encouraging. Yet when compared to the trials many of my peers are facing, I was able to wring a few drops of relief from my situation.
Still, large or small, those October and November “gotchas” are bound to produce fundamental changes in our lifestyle, life view, and expectations. Long-held, tried and true “autopilot” answers are apt to be tested by new challenges---especially when they imply the likelihood of painful procedures, or in the extreme, threaten our continued existence.
So it was, as I faced that new trial, I was left with time on my hands---time to think, to dwell on matters I had rarely visited before, at least not in depth. There was time for my imagination to create its own mind-dramas and worrisome outcomes. I suppose it is possible to have too much time on our hands.


Despite the doctor’s earlier efforts to prepare us for what he might find, Roma and I were predictably anxious as we sat side by side in his office, awaiting his report. True, I had weathered the exploratory surgery with minimal problems, but was I ready for what came next?
It must have been the normally-casual physician’s professional face we saw when he entered the room. I seem to remember his introduction as business-like, straight to the point. A minute later the sobering impact of the ‘C’ word, along with its “fairly aggressive” qualifier, had brought us up short. I don’t recall much of what came next. There were surely questions we should have asked at that point, but the weight of his dire words had overwhelmed the need to know more.
Thankfully I was not facing that intimidating trial alone. A good thing too. About then I needed her support big time, though I suppose both of us stopped breathing for a second or two. 
As you might expect, our drive home that morning was a quiet time---a strained silence neither of us wanted to disturb. Our troubled minds were brimming with feelings we wanted to express, but were not sure how to put into words. So many questions and so few answers. 
Not until that afternoon, after an awkwardly silent lunch, were we prepared to speak our concerns out loud. There I was, mired in dark thoughts, dwelling on the prospect of a seriously ugly future. It was sinking in, the realization that I might have to learn how to live with the shadow of dying lurking just beyond the horizon.
A couple times I paused to give myself a pep talk, focusing on the need to be strong. But in truth I did not feel strong. Not at all. I did not sense even a hint of strength until the two of us could take a deep breath, look each other in the eye, and begin to discuss what we would rather not be talking about.
Hopefully, you too know what a blessing it is to have a caring 'someone' to share the hard times. Though we struggled to put our thoughts into words, we understood that we would be facing whatever lay ahead together. Knowing she was there with me certainly made things easier. Best of all, we were learning that sharing our concerns out loud helped soften the hurtful possibilities. Though we were not likely to find any quick answers, by then there were hints of a more productive path.
Of course our conversation necessarily focused on more than just the two of us. The rest of the family was waiting to hear what we had been told. Something like that affects a lot of people. 
  At that point I felt perfectly fine, with no physical symptoms beyond the rapidly healing surgery. Yet, as the rest of the family was informed of the upsetting possibilities they were naturally concerned. As much as I tried to calm their fears, I was asking myself over and over if they would believe the old man.
The days immediately following the doctor’s revelation were a moody time. More than once I found myself dwelling on brother Roger and uncle Jim. Both of them had recently passed away---both of them leaving the scene far too soon to my way of thinking. Yet invariably, as sad as those recollections were, they soon morphed into my own recurring wonder at how a lifetime of days and years had passed so quickly.
And then, just as I mustered a modest hint of comfort, the truth of it would again capture my thoughts. The threat I was facing was not hypothetical. It was very real, and growing inside of me every day. That could not be wished away. But to acknowledge its presence, and be able to speak about it, seemed to rob much of its intimidating power.
It was after one of those dark spells when I finally found the nerve to discuss my altogether unorthodox idea with Roma. I had spent my retirement years creating novel-length stories about the trials of growing old. That had become an important way for me to relate to late-life circumstances, including disability and death. Now I was considering the notion of exploring in depth the course of a life, my own life, as it faced the prospect of death---not in some nebulous, fictional future, but up-close and personal, on my blog, perhaps even in a book-length story.
When Roma finally caught her breath she asked, “Do you know how to do that”
“I’m not sure,” I answered. “But I plan to try. There is a lot to sort out. I think writing about it might help.”
With that, our grand experiment, the one you are reading now, was set in motion. Where will it lead? I know the general direction, but not the details. In any case I hope you will join me and if you are so inclined, will 'Share' our adventure with anyone you think might be interested. 
  I expect to have the next installment ready to post in 10 days/2 weeks.


  1. You are a brave man Gil Stewart. I will join you for the journey, though I admit to a bit of guilt in doing so.
    Let me say again how much I appreciate what you have done in keeping so many of us at least somewhat "connected".

  2. Ron, thanks for checking in. I will be doing all I can to avoid a sad and gloomy journey. There are lots of positives I want to stress, while being as honest as I can be. Take care and enjoy the sunshine.

  3. Thanks for writing this, Gil. Very well-written. You indeed are a writer as you expressed above. I look forward to the future installments for I know that they will reveal more of God's amazing grace working through you.

  4. Gil, I know this is how life is going for many of my friends. Living in a senior community, our final days are often discussed. I'm sad about your diagnosis. We've been friends since ninth grade. I don't have any other friendships that have lasted that long. Now you're facing what my two daughter faced before the age of fifty one.

    You have lived a good, meaningful life. You followed your dreams when you and Roma took your four young children and lived in Europe. I know you've volunteered your time to help others. I met your four beautiful (and handsome) children and they have had the benefit of two loving, kind parents. You have done what you greatly desired to do when you took up writing. You've been blessed with a Roma as your wife. Sixty years is an amazing legacy.

    Hugs and loving thoughts to you and to Roma.

    Shirley Blush

    1. Thank you, girl. We have walked this path together for a long time, haven't we? And you're right, I could hardly be more fortunate---with Roma, the family, and the life we've lived.

      Beyond that, there are a good many days before us. And they are bound to be interesting, the stuff of more stories. I said years ago, in one of my first blog posts, that I expect to run our of days before I run out of stories.