A Life Left Too Early

originalThis morning, I received news that a friend in San Francisco had died. He was around my age and about six months ago was diagnosed with cancer. In his final hours, friends had shared stories and memories of him on his Facebook page and his family read the posts to him as he lay in bed. Then this morning my time, the family posted that he had passed.

I’m reaching the age, mid-40s, where I’m starting to encounter more deaths of people my age. A few high school classmates, a few colleagues. Of course the frequency will only rise and I know that this is part of life. But there is something that leaves me feeling a bit melancholy to see someone around my age lose their life.

Many times, I have asked myself how I would respond if I was diagnosed with a terminal disease. How hard would I fight to extend my life. Coincidentally, this morning as I drove to work I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast about this question: what is the value of quality of life versus quantity of life, when one is facing a terminal illness?

Of course it is easy to have an opinion on this when not faced with the actual dilemma, but I imagine I would opt for palliative care over aggressive treatment. I would rather enjoy the time I have left, then live longer but be in needless suffering.

Whatever the case, here’s a thought to the life of Wilson Fang. We weren’t close, but my life was better for having known him. And maybe that’s the highest tribute we can give anyone.

Reflections on Hospitalization

Friday morning I had a followup chest xray and appointment with my doctor at Bangkok Hospital.  After my third dose of radiation this month I learned that everything has cleared up nicely.  No more antibiotics or other pills for the time-being.

This xray shows my lungs at the start of the infection, the inflamed and congested area in the left lung indicated by the circle.  How anyone can read these things is beyond me, but someone can and that’s the diagnosis they made.

I had expected that my stay in the hospital, my first since being born, would have elicited some insights about mortality, death, the brevity of life, etc.  I expected to sit down and write a few of the “open when you are 18” letters to my nieces with all sorts of nifty insights drawn from the experience of staying alone in the hospital.

But, really, none came.  Maybe I’m just deceiving myself.  Maybe I’m just naive.  But over the past decade I think I’ve already arrived at a realization about my own mortality.  I don’t dwell on my eventual death, mind you, but I am very conscious that my life, and the lives of all those around me, will come to an end.

The summer before I turned sixteen I lost the first of my four grandparents.  My paternal grandfather had a protracted battle with what began as prostrate cancer (yes, I recognize that that is likely the battle for my life I’ll face and I do get screenings) and I cried deeply after losing him.

The same thing happened with two of my early relationships.  When they came to an end, I was devastated, too, certain that I would never love again.

From all this, I’ve recognized the pattern.  All things come into being, grow in maturity, age and decline and eventually die.  People. relationships, possessions – it seems to be true of everything.  And at some level I have made peace with that, so nothing new to report from staying in the hospital.

Of course, I hold out the possibility that I haven’t really learned anything yet, that I am kidding myself when I think I’ve recognized and made peace with this reality that all things go away.

Don’t Waste Time With Anger

In the past two weeks, I received news about deaths from two different friends in the Bay Area.  The first was about our friend Eric’s mother.  The second was a high school classmate and former coworker, Lisa.  Both lost their lives to cancer, pancreatic and ovarian, respectively.

In a world in which hundreds and thousands of deaths occur each day and in which each news cycle contains gruesome stories of murder, war, starvation and and natural disaster, I paused to reflect on the lives of these two women.  As some of you know, I write letters to my nieces, now ages three and six, which are sealed and kept in a box for them to open when they turn eighteen.  I’d like to share with you an excerpt of what I wrote to my younger niece, Ava:

Dear Ava,

I received news of the loss of two people, one the mother of a friend and the other a former classmate and coworker.  Both died younger than they should have, which is sometimes the way of the world.  Both of them left behind many people who cared for them and cared about them deeply.  And their loss reminds me of an important lesson, one I hope you’ll learn at the earliest possible age.

Life is precious and short and all too often we lose those we love unexpectedly and earlier than we want to.  And even when our loved ones do live a long and full life, we are still destined to lose them.  Because of that, each moment we have them in our lives is a valuable one, much too valuable to spend with a heart filled with anger or hatred or scorn.  Instead, fill those moments with love and kindness and forgiveness, because one day we will no longer have the opportunity to tell the people we love, “I’m sorry; I love you.”

 

I hope both Mrs. K’s family and Lisa’s family are comforted by the memories they have of these special ladies and that their tears of sorrow are interspersed with laughter as they think of the good times they enjoyed. 

I hope that each of us can learn and relearn the lesson brought by their family’s loss because it is a loss all of us have, or will, experience.  Don’t waste time with anger; fill each moment with love.

 

Zoe: 2000-2008

We received the sad news that my sister and brother in law’s yellow labrador, Zoe, who had been diagnosed with liver cancer just two weeks ago, was put to rest on Saturday morning. 

avandzoe51207 In the course of those two weeks, her health declined precipitously and within just the final few days she went from somewhat normal levels of energy, activity and appetite to being unable to eat or drink anything, let alone get up from the floor or move on her own.

Zoe was Jenn and Kevin’s first “child”, giving them a trio of years of experience caring for another living being before my oldest niece was born. 

Emily wasn’t as close to Zoe as my younger niece, Ava, has been.  But for both of them, the loss of a permanent part of their life will bring about all sorts of questions and worries and sadness.

Emily, who is old enough to remember her great-grandmother (my father’s mother), stated that now Zoe would be in heaven and would take walks with Grandma Schultz.  While Grandma was always a bit overwhelmed by Zoe (she was very demonstrative of her affections when she was younger, jumping all over you and sharing her very fur with you), I’m sure that image will provide the whole family with comfort.

Above: Ava and Zoe, best of friends, watch an endless summer afternoon pass by.

If the nature of things is that life is given and taken away on a whim, it seems that our clinging onto memories in an earnest, if futile, attempt to resist that capriciousness.