Wednesday, July 5, 2017

LIVING WITH DYING - Installment 7

I suppose it goes without saying that a story which purports to follow the course of my cancer adventure can only go as far and as fast as the disease itself, and my efforts to deal with it. 
It seems that for the next month or two I am in a holding pattern. In that case, I am not sure how interesting this last installment (at least for a while) will be. In one sense it feels like whatever drama is involved has been put on hold. In the meantime, I envision this post as being a way to (1) remind myself of how things are being changed by this new lifestyle of mine, and (2) provide an opportunity to review some of the ways I can adapt and cope.

As I have said before, all this began with some bad news. Before long that had me wondering if the reasons to keep going, the ones I had imagined so far, would be enough to see me through to the end. Now when I look ahead, trying to envision that future---the possibilities and the obstacles---I ask myself if I have what it takes to live a purposeful life in the face of death---i.e. Living with Dying? (I paused right here to scold myself. Why make it sound like that only happens to me, when everyone must carry on in the face of death?)
One thing for sure, I want to move beyond the geriatric fluff I read and hear about late-life---the stiffly-posed golf course scenes and smiling travel ads that do not reflect our life at all. Fact is, I have lived enough ‘fluff’ for one lifetime. I want my remaining years to deal with the ‘real stuff.‘ In my mind cancer qualifies as ‘real.’ My response should be just as real.
I have been around long enough to understand that a life spent pursuing superficial goals---wealth, recognition, status, etc---is likely to be a superficial life. I know that, because I have spent too much of my life chasing after those seductive prizes---with very mixed results. But now, as the veil of November reality settles over me, I can see that those once-appealing goals were too often idols---false gods, tempting but empty. I hope my last years can be more than that.
That, of course, does not mean that I know where all this is leading me. There are certainly some things I have not worked out yet, and probably never will. I do not have all the answers. 
For instance, I will admit that I still wrestle with a particular slice of that ‘false-god scenario,’ one I may never outgrow. Friends, family, even complete strangers, keep posting alluring photos of enticing, far-away sights on Facebook. Some are places Roma and I remember visiting, and would love to see again. Others are destinations we have never seen, but wish we could.
 It would be so easy to place those intriguing travel adventures near the top of my November ‘to do’ list---at least until I reel my thoughts back to the ‘real’ world. You see, given our health limitations, financial capabilities, and simply the people we have become, late-life reality argues against extended travel. As a younger man I would never have imagined that a night or two in a classy hotel would have this once-bold adventurer longing for his own bed. So instead, we are likely to put those travel dreams aside and revisit the shelves of photo albums we have accumulated over the years, remembering those times (when we can) and reliving those moments.
In the meantime I am left to wonder what comes next in the personal adventure Roma and I are living. Chances are it will be a while before that sorts itself out. The doctor tells me it will take another month or two to know how effective the first round of six treatments has been. At that point he will recommend the next steps. 
And while I wait I want to sort through some of the options I have in mind for the future I intend. I will start that process with the assumption that all of us October and November folks have more to work with than we sometimes realize. A lifetime of hard-won elder wisdom, the things we have learned along the way, ought not be dismissed, especially in our ‘down and out’ moments, when it feels like our late-life potential is more limited than we would like. We must not give up on ourselves.
Personally, I intend to keep going---filling these blog pages when it feels like I have something to say, and carrying on with my Tanner Chronicle stories. There are two of those in the works right now, and another taking shape in my slightly deluded mind.


 With that, I want to sign off with a bit of that ‘elder wisdom’ that my cousin learned as a much younger woman. When her four-year old son faced a terminal cancer diagnosis, given two weeks to live, she railed against God and life in general---until that is, she was visited by a wise and inspired epiphany, a simple question that seemed to put everything in perspective.
Instead of being bogged down in “Why us?” she was moved to ask, “Why not us? Why does it always have to be someone else? Everyone who is born will die sometime.” 
With that understanding came what she calls a “wonderful feeling of peace.’ Today, after decades of harsh treatments and troublesome side-effects, her son is 42 years old and “still a pistol.”
I will end this on that happy note, and the understanding that when it comes to 'Living with Dying' I am a rank amatuer. We live in a world where unexpected trials are visited on people every day---harsh circumstances that make my late-life trial look like a speed bump. Bottom line---when our turn comes, and you know it does for everyone at one time or another, it is up to us to summon the inspiration and strength to keep sharing our love and caring---to keep Becoming.

PS - Finally, if you are so inclined I hope you will consider sharing these seven installments of Living With Dying with anyone you feel might be interested.


  1. Thanks for these installments, Gil. At 84, and having just undergone back surgery, I am very aware that all of us of a certain age are living with dying. The loss of contemporaries forces us to focus on our own increasingly limited time. When Bobby Fleisher (who died last October) and I wrote The New Senior Man we learned so much from so many men, including you, Gil. I hope when it comes out this coming October, you will glimpse how some others may see you as inspirational, even before the crisis you now face.

    1. Thanks for checking in, Thelma. You're right. These last years, heading toward the finish line, are an interesting time. And I am definitely looking forward to reading your book.

      Take care, and let someone else do the heavy lifting.

  2. Thelma is right Gil. To me you have been an "unexpected" inspiriation, and a blessing.
    Thank you.

  3. Thanks, Ron. I appreciate your support.

  4. Thanks, Gil. I particularly appreciated your reference to the false gods that allure us at this stage of life. How easily we fall for that stuff. Helps to hear that others -- like yourself -- are dealing with it too.