The Things You Think Of

Even though I’ve begun a new treatment that I hope will extend my life, and my last PSA number was encouraging, my prognosis has not changed. Nobody likes it when I go there, but in my head, I can’t help but go there all the time. I’m constantly reminded of it by so many things, from the mundane to the meaningful.

I’m reminded of it by the beautiful cross pendants that my wife just learned to make. The picture above is of her first batch. I asked her to start making them, since she makes jewelry, for me to wear and to give away to cancer patients that I feel led to give them to. I love them, but every time I put one on, it’s a reminder.

My mortality is a frequent topic of conversation between my wife and me, because we have to be prepared for the day when she won’t have me around. Who will troubleshoot the wifi? Who will run my website and ship CD orders, which will hopefully continue long after I’m gone? I’ve always been the tech guy around here, and if you’ve been to our house, you know how we have TV and music in just about every room. That’s important to me. Now we have to think about simplifying that setup so my wife can run it on her own.

You’re probably thinking, “Thanks for the buzzkill, Mark! Merry Christmas to you too!” The truth is, I’ve had a lot of trouble getting into the Christmas mood this year. I thought maybe it was because of the warm weather we’ve had until recently, but the weather’s cold now, and there’s snow on the ground. The decorations are up, so I should be in a festive mood, especially considering the fact that I don’t know how many of these I have left. But then, neither do you.

Even with Christmas only a little more than two weeks away, I’m still not feeling it. Could it have anything to do with the fact that my mortality keeps tapping me on the shoulder? Here are a few examples, both mundane and meaningful.

A few years ago, when LED lights started to become popular, I decided to change all of our outside lights to LED, from our porch lights to our outdoor Christmas lights. We had a few incandescent outdoor decorations, but incandescent and LED don’t mix well. It’s warm light vs cool light. So I threw my old incandescent decorations away and started over, and I’ve gradually been adding one LED item each of the past few years.

After a few years of adding pieces, I’ve come close to having the kind of display I want. It’s nice, but it needs one more thing to make it complete, at least for me; some kind of centerpiece to go in the middle of the front lawn. What I wanted was an LED spiral tree, since they are collapsible, and don’t require much storage space. But for the past several years, LED spiral trees have been hard to find, or very expensive.

Just out of habit, I looked for one this year and found a very affordable one with good reviews on Amazon. Prices are finally starting to come down on those. But I hesitated. In past years, I wouldn’t have even thought about making a purchase like that. I wouldn’t have asked my wife about it. I would have just done it. But this year, I find myself wondering how many more years I’ll be able to put the outside lights up. If I’m able to do that for two more years, I think I’ll be doing really well. I know that after I can’t put them up anymore, nobody will. So what’s the point of adding anything now?

I’m not being morose, just practical. In our financial state, I have no business making frivolous purchases anyway. And in my mind, any purchase needs to be measured against the standard of whether or not it will continue to be useful to my wife when I’m not using it anymore. That mindset kinda puts a damper on my Christmas mood.

I asked my wife about this. I told her how much the spiral tree I found costs, and what I was thinking about making those kinds of purchases, and she said to go ahead and order it. She said if we only enjoy it for a year or two, at least it will make those Christmases more special for me. At least I’ll get that much enjoyment out of it. So I ordered it, and it should arrive soon. I can’t wait to set it up. I have a feeling that it will start to feel like Christmas for me once it’s here, making my outdoor light display complete for the first time since the changeover to LED.

The things you think of. Little reminders that keep cropping up. I was making an online purchase this morning, and the website asked for my credit card information, including my card’s expiration date. My current credit card (we only keep one, and pay the balance to zero every month) has an expiration date in 2020. I couldn’t help but think that my credit card might have a better expiration date than I do. I might never have to renew this card.

It’s December, so a lot of movies are coming out. We’ve been to a couple, and expect to go to a couple more this month. Every time I go to a movie theater, I see what their senior discount is, and wonder if I’ll ever get to use that senior discount. The things you think of.

But every reminder I’ve had recently has not been mundane. One that happened on Thanksgiving has had great meaning for me. I’ve been carrying this around since that day, and probably will for the rest of my life. Let me tell you about my Thanksgiving with Gloria.

Gloria is seven years old. She and her sister and their mom are all like family to my wife and me. Chosen family. My wife and I don’t live near our families, so we spend our holidays with close friends, which I hear referred to now as “chosen family.” I like that term. I love both Gloria and her sister Maxine desperately, but Gloria and I seem to have a special bond. She wanted to sit next to me at the Thanksgiving dinner table. After dinner, she spent a significant amount of time on my lap.

As we sat down to eat, our hosts asked me to say a few words. I said that I had been hearing the term, “chosen family” a lot recently. I told our friends how thankful we are to be part of their chosen family, and to have them be part of ours.

Of course, I brought the latest batch of my dark chocolate ice cream for all of us to try. Gloria loves my ice cream. She wants to know how to make it, but I haven’t figured that out for myself yet! We had been discussing with the whole group what the name of the ice cream should be, and Gloria said she knew what it should be. I asked what she thought, and she said, “Chosen Family Chocolate.” We all looked at each other and said, “I like that!” I think Gloria may have named my ice cream that day.

Then she said something that broke my heart. We were talking about a memorial garden on our host’s property, where the ashes of loved ones and pets are buried. Our dog Ziggy’s ashes are buried there. I talked about how Ziggy had always wanted to stay at their place, and now he gets to stay there permanently. Our dear friend Nancy said that her ashes would be buried in that garden one day. I said that I didn’t know where I would be. I’ll be wherever my wife wants me, I said.

Jokes were passed around about how I’ll have no control over that. Nancy suggested that they could keep “a piece of me” to bury in their garden. A portion of my ashes, you understand. They’re not gonna bury a finger. I said yes, and I’d also like some of my ashes to nourish my lilac bush in our back yard, which is so precious to me. Still eating her ice cream, Gloria interjected, “And I will cry and cry.”

I was floored, and my heart melted. Can a heart break and melt at the same time? Mine did. I immediately asked her mom if Gloria and Maxine knew about my prognosis. I put it in a rather crude way; I asked if they knew that I’m likely to die before they reach middle school. She winced, and said yes, they know. My heart broke a little more.

Last year, we had pretty much this same group over to our house for Thanksgiving. As has been my practice post-cancer, I had a blessing prepared for each person at the table, and I took great joy in speaking them aloud to each one there. Gloria and Maxine were the last ones I spoke to. I told them how special they both are to me. When I spoke to Gloria, she climbed up in my lap and said she wanted to stay with us for a week.

After the individual blessings, I had one more thing to say to these young girls. I told them I had a new goal, and asked them if they wanted to know what it was. With shining eyes, they both said yes. I told them that my new goal was to dance at their weddings. That goal seems out of reach now. I’ll be doing well to make elementary school graduation.

I tell that story of last year’s Thanksgiving because, based on conversations that Gloria and I had at this year’s Thanksgiving, I have no doubt that she remembers what I said. She knows that I’m not likely to achieve my goal of dancing at her wedding. She knows we weren’t just referring to the fact that she’s a young girl and I’m an old man, so naturally, she will outlive me. She knows that day is probably coming while she’s still a child. And she will cry and cry.

I can’t get that out of my head. The vision of an inconsolable Gloria stays with me, weeks after Thanksgiving. Maybe that’s part of what’s stealing my Christmas joy. Even a spiral tree won’t chase that image away.

While my last post, which has gotten quite a reaction, shows that I haven’t given up, that I’m trying new treatments to try to beat expectations, I’m still reminded at every turn what the most likely outcome is. It’s just part of the deal when you’re in my shoes.

What Gloria said on Thanksgiving still haunts me. I know she won’t be the only one crying. But when she’s done crying, she will grow up with the knowledge that I love her very much, and she’ll always be able to say that she picked the name for Chosen Family Chocolate Ice Cream. #waroncancer

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