“Death destroys a man. But the idea of death saves him.” –E. F. Forster
We are traveling the pilgrim’s path between love and death. Our home is filling up with emblems of beauty, hope, and care from thoughtful people who have chosen to come on pilgrimage with us. Our neighbors, family, and friends near and far have picked up the pilgrim’s staff and are traveling with us. Our pastor’s visit and prayer this past Monday, the day before surgery, enveloped us in all your love and the peace that passes understanding.
The journey started in November with Stuart’s diagnosis of malignant melanoma. Now, the surgery on his parotid gland is finished. Next week we will return to Philadelphia twice. Once to remove the drain from the incision and once for a post-operation consultation with Dr. Rajasekaran, the surgeon.
CaringBridge, the wonderful online service, has allowed us to communicate with hundreds of people without having to write the same thing over and over. It also allows people the option of commenting with encouraging stories and memories of influence Stuart has had in their lives.
Reading a CaringBridge message comes close to eavesdropping on one’s own funeral – like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
And when surgery occurs close to Valentine’s Day, it’s also like being showered with hearts, flowers, and candy from a lover.
For those of us in the smallest circle of family, it was also a time to pull close. We texted and FaceTimed all day with our children and grandchildren. Lydia sent a video message and Owen and Julia sent cards.
Before Stuart was taken away to the pre-op area, we took one last selfie, just in case the knife nicked the nerve that controls muscles on the left side of the face.
After almost eight hours (only two of which were actually devoted to surgery), I was able to visit Stuart in his room. He was his usual cheerful self, chatting with the many members of the medical team. Within 24 hours we had permission to leave, took the Amtrak to Lancaster, and were walking in Lititz!
Having cancer, and loving someone who has cancer, peels away the pretense most of us live by in order not to be paralyzed by the thought of death. Any time we undergo surgery, we wonder, “Will I come out from under the ether?” The closer we come to death, the more precious life is. We hold each other and say “I love you” often. We cherish life.
Our wedding vows (54 years ago this August) featured the word “cherish.” We promised then and we promise now to cherish each other all life long.
Stuart and I have greatly expanded hearts right now. Just in time for Valentine’s Day. We are looking forward to the date we made several weeks ago for this coming Monday night at the Blackworth Live Fire Grill.
Unless it rains, we will walk there, through a landscape I have loved all my life, the Lititz Springs Park, and that we now love together.
We are saying prayers of thanksgiving to God — and for you. The journey is not over, and we know better than ever that it will end for both of us, but until then, we cherish it.
We have only one request of you. It’s not for meals or flowers or candy, as much as we have enjoyed and deeply appreciated such gifts.
Cherish each other. Cherish life.